Pence to highlight US commitment to allies on Asia-Pac trip

V-P's tour to S. Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia to also stress economic agenda

WASHINGTON • United States Vice-President Mike Pence will be the third top US official to travel to the Asia-Pacific region in consecutive months when he arrives in South Korea on April 16.

The trip comes on the heels of a three-nation Asia tour by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the middle of last month and Defence Secretary James Mattis' trip to Japan and South Korea in February.

The flurry of visits by US top officials to Asia came amid questions about the US' commitment to the region and growing concerns over North Korea's missile threat.

Shortly after President Donald Trump took office in January, the US pulled out of a 12-nation Pacific trade deal.

The US President had previously suggested that Asian nations were not paying enough for US troops stationed in their countries.

The White House said in a statement that Mr Pence's upcoming visit to Asia will underscore US commitment to its allies and unwavering support for American troops at home and abroad.

It will also highlight the Trump administration's economic agenda, said the White House.

Mr Pence's itinerary includes South Korea, Japan and Australia, which host US troops, and a visit - on the way home - to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he will be meeting senior leadership from the US Pacific Command.

At the first stop of his Asia tour, South Korea, Mr Pence will meet Acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn and speak to the business community.

He will also meet US and South Korean troops. The two allies are holding their annual joint military drills amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. Since the eight-week-long Foal Eagle military exercise began on March 1, Pyongyang has fired six missiles, three of which fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone on March 6.

On April 18, the Vice-President will travel to Japan, where he will be touring Nimitz-class USS Ronald Reagan, whose home port is in Yokosuka.

He will also meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and lead the inaugural US-Japan Economic Dialogue with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Mr Aso said yesterday that the agenda for his meeting with Mr Pence is not limited to trade and currencies, and includes energy and infrastructure.

After Japan, Mr Pence will travel to Jakarta on April 20. Earlier reports have said that terrorism and other security issues are on the agenda when he meets President Joko Widodo and other top Indonesian officials.

Mr Pence is also expected to discuss a brewing contract dispute between the government and American mining group Freeport McMoRan, two Indonesian government sources told Reuters in an earlier report last month.

Freeport has threatened to take the Indonesian government to court over newly revised mining regulations that have prompted a major scale-back in its operations in the eastern province of Papua.

Mr Pence, who will be accompanied on the trip by his wife and their two daughters, will touch down in Sydney on April 22.

He will meet Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and US and Australian service members. "Focusing again on American businesses, jobs and the economy, Vice-President Pence will join a listening session and give remarks to the US and Australian business community," said the White House statement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Pence to highlight US commitment to allies on Asia-Pac trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe