Approaching the presidential election taking place in the United States today, it might have been expected that the Trump administration's top officials would stay home to work towards securing another term, or learn whether they need to make way for a new president and a different team. So it was something of a surprise that both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper were in Asia this past week, first in New Delhi to sign a military agreement of considerable strategic significance, then for Mr Pompeo to travel to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Indonesia before making a last-minute stopover in Vietnam that was announced only after the delegation had taken wing to Asia.
Separately, 9,000 US troops, joined by 37,000 Japanese troops, are conducting an island-landing exercise in the Pacific this week. The commander of the US Forces in Japan, Lieutenant-General Kevin Schneider, said the exercise demonstrates the ability of the US-Japan alliance to deliver troops to defend the Senkakus or respond to other crises or contingencies. China, which calls the islands Diaoyu, has regularly sent navy vessels to the waters around the contested islands for extended periods. It was also noteworthy that Vietnam and Indonesia, two Asean nations on Mr Pompeo's itinerary last week, were the very ones Mr Yoshihide Suga chose to make his first trips to as Japan's new prime minister.