TOKYO • US President Donald Trump has decided at the last minute to extend his first trip to Asia, to attend the East Asia Summit, after an earlier decision to skip the event raised questions about his interest in Asia.
"We're actually staying an extra day in the Philippines," Mr Trump said yesterday as he embarked on the trip. He was initially slated to return to the US on Nov 14, and the summit is to be held on Nov 13 and 14.
He told reporters that trade and "obviously North Korea" will be on the agenda. He added: "We'll be enlisting the help of a lot of people and countries and we'll see what happens. But I think we're going to have a very successful trip."
He left Joint Base Andrews, just outside Washington, bound for Hawaii. From there he will travel on to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
In Japan, golf and wagyu steak await Mr Trump, who arrives in Tokyo tomorrow morning.
First course of business: Teeing off with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and World No. 4 golfer Hideki Matsuyama in the afternoon. In the evening, Mr Trump and his wife Melania will be hosted to a "couples' dinner" by Mr Abe and his wife Akie, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
On Monday, Mr Trump will have an audience with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, before talks with Mr Abe, where North Korea is likely to dominate the agenda.
The same day, Mr Trump is slated to meet the next of kin of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.
Mr Abe has sought to cultivate a relationship with Mr Trump since the latter's election as US President last year, even breaking with protocol to visit him at Trump Tower before his inauguration on Jan 20.
Since then, the two leaders have had four bilateral meetings and spoken over the phone 16 times.
Mr Abe has already spoken more often on the phone with Mr Trump in less than a year than with the latter's predecessor Barack Obama over four years. Mr Abe had nine bilateral meetings and 11 telephone summits with Mr Obama between December 2012 and this January.
At their fifth bilateral meeting, Mr Trump and Mr Abe will stress the need to exert maximum pressure on North Korea to make it give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. It is understood that they will discuss the possibility of more secondary sanctions. They will also talk about the regional security climate, with Mr Abe seeking the US' buy-in for Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" that calls for a rules-based order in the sea.
Some 21,000 police officers have been activated as security is beefed up for the visit, with train stations clearing out rubbish cans and shutting storage lockers. Mr Trump will leave for South Korea on Tuesday.