- - Monday, November 6, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“I came, I saw, I conferred,” may not match Julius Caesar’s historic description of his foreign adventure, but President Trump’s 12-day Asia trip is meant to conquer doubts that the United States is still the power to be reckoned with across the Pacific (and everywhere else). When disruptive forces test traditional regional alliances, over issues of trade, free passage on the open sea and the denuclearization of the rogue regime in North Korea, the United States is the indispensable bridge over troubled waters.

Using a layover in Honolulu on his way out, the president spoke of the nation’s heartbreak two generations ago when diplomacy failed and the Japanese attacked on Pearl Harbor, and the world paid for it. With the first lady at his side, Mr. Trump seeks to ease the fears of Japan’s 127 millions who live now under the threat of North Korea’s missiles.

Together with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Trump bucked up U.S. and Japanese military forces at Yokota Air Base in Japan before the two played a round of golf. Happiness in troubled times is having a golfing partner whose game is backed by three aircraft carrier groups patrolling the sea nearby.

Mr. Trump is scheduled meet President Moon Jae-in Tuesday in the shadow of nuclear menace. Even foregoing an excursion to the Demilitarized Zone, the president nevertheless puts himself in the cross-hairs of the Rocket Man’s armaments, which would be only seconds away.

Mr. Trump is expected to apply spine-stiffening pressure on Mr. Moon in a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly. President Moon is trapped in his own rhetorical DMZ, having pledged to tolerate no provocation from the North nor allow the South to trigger conflict that could lead to new war on the Korean Peninsula. Some military and diplomat observers think Rocket Man might be tempted to order a new nuclear test for the occasion, just to overshadow the ceremonies in “the land of the morning calm.”

Like blips on a radar screen, China counts the stops on Mr. Trump’s Asian journey as he approaches perhaps his most important stop, Beijing. There, the president will require the best of his deal-making powers if he is to persuade President Xi Jinping that with regional stability hanging by a thread he can no longer escape the responsibility to persuade Mr. Kim to abandon the threat of nuclear warfare.

Mr. Trump boldly signed an executive order in September directing foreign banks to choose between doing business with the United States or North Korea. China has been a loyal trading partner to both nations. But money talks, and the $479 billion China earned in sales to the United States last year dwarfs the $3 billion Beijing earned in business with Pyongyang. Something with similar consequences would be helpful.

If China needs additional convincing, Mr. Trump could remind him that Beijing is on his list for pilfering $600 billion annually in intellectual property from American businesses. A crackdown would jar the Chinese economy.

Mr. Trump belatedly decided to attend a summit of Pacific Rim leaders conveniently meeting in Manila, tacking an extra day on his grueling road trip. He will have an opportunity there to meet Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. It was an opportunity to allay the fears of Asian allies, who argued that if Mr. Trump didn’t make it to Manila it would raise questions about whether the United States really wants to be the power in Asia. “I came, I saw, I conferred” may not sound heroic, but appearances can sometimes be reassuring.


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