President Trump kicked off his Asia tour Sunday with a warning that the U.S. will use its military might, if necessary, to fend off hostile threats.
“No one — no dictator, no regime and no nation — should underestimate, ever, American resolve,” Trump told U.S. and Japanese troops, assembled inside a flag-draped aircraft hangar at the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. “We will never yield, never waver and never falter in defense of our people, our freedom and our great American flag.”
It was a message aimed, at least in part, at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose aggressive nuclear and missile tests are expected to be a major focus of the president’s trip.
In South Korea, Trump will visit Camp Humphreys, a newly-expanded military base that will ultimately house many of the 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula. The $11 billion base was largely paid for by South Korea. The White House wants to showcase the garrison as a positive example of “burden sharing.”
“Free nations must be strong nations and we welcome it when our allies — from Europe to Asia — renew their commitment to peace through strength,” Trump told service members, after swapping his suit coat for a leather bomber jacket.
During the campaign, Trump criticized Japan for not spending enough on its own defense and forcing U.S. taxpayers to make up the difference.
Since taking office, though, Trump has bonded with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Both men are avid golfers. They played nine holes together on Sunday at Kasumigaseki Country Club, where they were joined by Japanese pro golfer Hideki Matsuyama.
In South Korea, Trump will address the National Assembly, where he’s expected to urge all countries to do more to combat the nuclear threat from North Korea. He’ll continue to make that case when he visits China, which is North Korea’s biggest trading partner.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on power after the recent Communist Party Congress, while Trump is weathering some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. But speaking to reporters en route to Japan, Trump bristled at the suggestion that he’ll be at a disadvantage in his meetings with Xi.
“We’re going in with tremendous strength,” Trump said, pointing to the booming stock market and encouraging jobs numbers. “These are tremendous numbers. Whether it’s China or anybody else, these are massive numbers.”
The stock market did hit new, nominal highs last week. But despite a strong report from the Labor Department Friday, the pace of job growth from February through October lags what it was in 2016.
Trump also confirmed that he expects to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam.