- - Tuesday, October 24, 2017


North Korea’s persistent nuclear missile threats, combined with China’s active regional and mounting global military threats, dictate that reassuring America’s Asian allies and friends must be the highest priority of President Trump’s November trip to Asia. But more than simply affirming alliance commitments, the U.S. must lead its allies to better deter the enemies of freedom.

Current North Korean and Chinese threats are causing profound anxieties among our allies such that words or “doctrines” without new commitments or actions will be insufficient. Former President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia failed in its goal of reassurance because it did not reverse Pyongyang’s drive for nuclear missile weapons or deter China’s growing use of military intimidation to achieve territorial aggrandizement. While President Trump has been quick to understand the urgency of confronting Pyongyang, his Asia policy development has been delayed by the slow replacement of policy officials associated with Mr. Obama’s unsuccessful policies.

There is now added urgency after Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Oct. 17 speech before the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th Party Congress in which he declared the party’s intention to make China “a leading global power” and to have a “world-class” military. What this means is that China wants military superiority over the United States by 2050. But starting in the 2020s, China may attempt to invade and destroy democratic Taiwan, break up the U.S.-led alliance system in Asia, build up its People’s Liberation Army for global projection, and seek military control of the earth-moon system.

When Mr. Trump begins his journey in Hawaii on Nov. 3, he should declare that America always will provide leadership and cooperation with its allies and friends to defend freedom in Asia. North Korea and China, he should state, pose a direct and growing threat to freedom and thus require a much greater allied military commitment to supplement that of Washington. He should state that to deter North Korea, the United States is willing to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons into U.S. forces in Asia in cooperation with Japan and South Korea. He should also say the U.S. is willing to deploy additional forces to Guam and Japan to deter Chinese attack against Japan’s Ryukyu Island Chain and against Taiwan.

Mr. Trump will not visit Taiwan, with which the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations but does sustain a political and military relationship through the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, reinforced by Ronald Reagan’s 1982 Six Assurances. By affirming these as the basis for relations with Taiwan, and committing to new U.S. to arms sales to ensure Taiwan can deter Chinese attack into the next decade, Mr. Trump can also demonstrate the leadership expected from the United States.

Mr. Trump’s Nov. 7 visit to South Korea gains supreme importance following CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s Oct. 19 assessment that in “months” North Korea could reach the U.S. with nuclear weapon-armed ballistic missiles. In addition to deploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to provide for immediate retaliation, it is time for the U.S. to break Beijing’s military-technical alliance with Pyongyang by focusing public outrage on this relationship.

In contrast to the Obama administration, which did nothing since 2011 when it learned China had transferred large, sophisticated 16-wheel Transporter Erector Launchers (TELs) that now carry North Korea’s nuclear missiles aimed at America, on Oct. 13 the Trump administration sanctioned the subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) that gave North Korea the TELs. Mr. Trump should consider following Reagan’s example of leadership, when on June 12, 1987, he attacked the Soviet Union’s freedom-crushing Berlin Wall by challenging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” To begin to stop China’s military aid for North Korea, Mr. Trump should publicly challenge Xi Jinping to “take back your TELs.”

Finally, on Nov. 12 Mr. Trump will visit the Philippines to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which now faces unprecedented military threats from China’s construction of four air and naval bases in the South China Sea. In mid-August, four Chinese naval ships harassed the Philippine island of Pag Asa. Mr. Trump should publicly denounce China’s maritime imperialism and assert that the U.S. will never accept Chinese control over this strategic waterway. If China does not dismantle its bases, Mr. Trump should state that the U.S. will sell or give Vietnam and the Philippines, individually, the means to destroy them.

Mr. Trump should make clear that Asia’s path to sustained stability and prosperity requires greater political and economic freedom, not the limited political and economic freedom that will be imposed by an ascendant imperial Chinese dictatorship.

• James A. Lyons, a retired Navy admiral, is a former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

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