Trump starts Asia trip by warning ‘tyrants and dictators’

Eleven-day tour puts US president at centre of North Korea nuclear standoff

“Greatest threat”: a soldier helps Donald Trump put on a flight jacket for his speech to US troops in Japan. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“Greatest threat”: a soldier helps Donald Trump put on a flight jacket for his speech to US troops in Japan. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

President Donald Trump has begun the first leg of a five-nation tour of Asia by lavishing praise on the US military, calling it “the last bulwark” against threats to the “dreams of people across the world”.

In a speech at a joint Japan-US military base outside Tokyo, Mr Trump put on a flight jacket and told American troops they were the “greatest threat” to “tyrants and dictators who seek to prey on the innocent”. “We dominate the sky. We dominate the sea. We dominate the land and space,” he said before pledging a bigger military budget and “a lot of beautiful brand-new equipment”.

The speech set the tone for an 11-day tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines that gives Trump some respite from the increasingly toxic political air at home but puts him at the centre of one of the world’s most dangerous standoffs.

North Korea has challenged American power in the region since Mr Trump took office by testing its sixth nuclear weapon and firing a series of missiles into the Pacific Ocean. Trump has threatened “fire and fury” against Pyongyang and in September threatened the “total destruction” of the isolated country should it attack the United States.

The president has criticised the “total weakness” of his country’s position on the North. “It’s a big problem for our country and the world, and we want to get it solved,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One on his way to Japan.

He has deployed three aircraft carriers to the region and piled pressure on Pyongyang with military exercises near the Korean Peninsula that China and Russia have repeatedly condemned as provocative.

The high-risk strategy has won the support of the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, but raised fears that it could trigger a nuclear war. Abe and Trump have both said the time for talking with North Korea is over.

Fist bumps: Donald Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (with Hideki Matsuyama, second right) on the golf course. Photograph: Japanese government via Jiji Press/AFP/Getty
Fist bumps: Donald Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (with Hideki Matsuyama, second right) on the golf course. Photograph: Japanese government via Jiji Press/AFP/Getty
“Donald & Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater”: Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe with golf hats they signed. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
“Donald & Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater”: Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe with golf hats they signed. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

Japan is the United States’ staunchest ally in the region, and Trump has an increasingly close relationship with Abe. The two men were photographed exchanging fist bumps during a game of golf with Hideki Matsuyama, Japan’s top player, on Sunday.

Before the game the two leaders sat at a table in the clubhouse and autographed caps that said “Donald & Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater”.

They later tweeted their bromance to the world. “Playing golf with Prime Minister Abe and Hideki Matsuyama, two wonderful people!” wrote Trump. “A round of golf with a marvelous friend (President Donald J. Trump), full of spirited conversation,” wrote Abe.

Trump has steered clear so far of the blustery rhetoric that has marked his presidency, but controversy was not far away. In an interview with Fox News before he left the US, he warned China to rein in North Korea or risk provoking Japan. “Japan is a warrior nation, and I tell China and I tell everyone else that listens, I mean, you’re going to have yourself a big problem with Japan pretty soon if you allow this to continue with North Korea.”

The interview, raising the Chinese bogeyman of a rearmed and aggressive Japan, has been condemned by some as incendiary. Under its US-penned constitution Japan has renounced the threat of war, despite having the world’s eighth-largest military.

Trump also said Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles as they flew over the country this year, according to diplomatic sources quoted in the Japan Times. Japan has one of the world’s most expensive – and untested – missile defence systems, largely supplied by American contractors.

While Trump and Abe took to the fairway, their wives went shopping. Melania Trump and Akie Abe visited a jewellery shop in Tokyo’s upmarket Ginza district. The two couples later had dinner in the city.