President Donald Trump’s Asian tour will begin this weekend, giving the leader of the free world a week and a half to settle the nerves of allies, unnerve North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and realign some of the complicated and competing priorities in the China-US relationship.
A senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Rick Fisher, is hopeful the trip could pave the way for a major shift in nuclear policy that would have the United States redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea. Such a move would bolster U.S. allies who have been unsettled by North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, as well as China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea.
Fisher said that U.S. allies in the region are looking for reassurance and military commitments given the “alarming increase in military threats, especially from North Korea, but also from China.”
He warns that the Chinese regime continues to threaten Taiwan and could invade in the 2020s.
“Trump should demonstrate that he is aware of these interconnected threats and that he is more than willing to continue the tradition of America’s strong leadership in deterring such threats to freedom in Asia,” said Fisher.
While the United States can claim significant credit for the economic recovery of Japan after World War II and the continued existence of South Korea, the rise of China has changed the dynamic in the region.
Fisher said China hopes to isolate South Korea and Japan from their ally, the United States, which has fostered Asian democracies with some of the most successful economies in the world.
China has also supported North Korea’s nuclear program, said Fisher, and has provided the specialized vehicles for North Korea’s mobile missile launches.
While Trump has made some gestures to bolster allies in the region, including the current presence of three aircraft carriers and their associate strike groups of additional ships and aircraft, the status quo remains largely unchanged.
“Unfortunately, China has no intention of cooperating with the United States or in doing anything to reduce North Korea’s nuclear threat without some kind of sanction and pressure from the United States,” Fisher said.
Fisher said he hopes Trump will make reassuring allies in the region one of his overriding objectives during his Nov 3-14 tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
But he is expecting Trump to also have another message for allies.
‘Be Prepared to Do More Yourselves.’
South Korea and Japan should be prepared to spend much more on their own security and defense, said Fisher, and Trump could push them to do so by outlining the threats they face from China and North Korea.
Tactical nuclear weapons deployed to Asia at air force bases and Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as low yield nuclear artillery shells, would do much more to deter any attack on U.S. allies than U.S. nuclear missiles on the other side of the globe, he said.
“The Chinese are developing these same systems,” said Fisher.
If the U.S. nuclear deterrent falls behind that of its regional competitors, it could destabilize the region, he said.
That stance could unsettle those that see anything irritating the China relationship as a threat to trade. Trump’s upcoming trip will seek to attract additional energy investments from China that could go far towards balancing the massive trade deficit the United States currently runs with China.
But Fisher said it is easy enough for Trump balance the seeming contradiction of taking tough security measures and keeping a cozy economic relationship.
“He simply has to tell all the ears that are listening, that ‘your continued prosperity, whether you’re a country or a company, depends on the continued existence of a relative peace,” he said.
“If the United States fails in providing the leadership necessary to sustain a relative peace, then the idea that companies and countries can continue to pursue their own path to profits evaporates. There will be no profits without sustained peace,” he said.