TOKYO — President Trump donned a military-style bomber jacket shortly after arriving in Japan on Sunday and projected confidence that the United States will confront threats in Asia, telling hundreds of U.S. troops that they will have the resources « to fight, to overpower and to always, always, always win. »
Trump’s tough talk in a speech to U.S. and Japanese military personnel at Yokota Air Base, shortly after Air Force One touched down here, aimed to set a tone for his five-nation tour during which the president said he is likely to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a regional summit in Vietnam later this week.
The president told reporters during his flight that he wants « Putin’s help on North Korea, » as his administration attempts to consolidate support for its strategy to pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.
“History has proven over and over that the road of the tyrant is a steady march towards poverty, suffering and servitude, » Trump told the troops, perhaps referring obliquely to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, whose name he did not mention. Noting that he has proposed a bigger military budget, Trump surveyed the troops in an air base hangar and declared: « We’ve got a lot of stuff coming; use it well. »
The boisterous scene, during which the troops cheered and chanted « U.S.A.! » was probably closely watched in capitals across Northeast Asia, where governments from Seoul to Beijing are looking for signals of how Trump will address the threat on his first trip to the region. The president’s heightened rhetoric aimed at the North and the Kim regime has set the region on edge over concerns that increasing tensions could result in a military confrontation.
On the plane, Trump told reporters that he plans to decide “very soon” whether to re-label North Korea a state sponsor of terror. The North spent 10 years on that list before being removed in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration for meeting nuclear inspection requirements. Pyongyang later violated the agreement.
But Trump also offered encouragement for North Korean citizens, calling them “great people.”
“They’re industrious, they’re warm, much warmer than the world really knows and understands,” he told reporters on the plane. “They’re great people and I hope it all works out for everybody. And it would be a wonderful thing if it could work for those great people, and for everybody.”
And he seemed unconcerned about the prospect that North Korea might use his trip to the region to demonstrate its military might by firing a missile. “We’ll soon find out,” he said. “Good luck!”
After speaking at the air base, Trump was scheduled to spend the day with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, including nine holes of golf and a dinner. At the golf course, the two signed white baseball caps with the embroidered words: « Donald and Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater. » On Monday, the two will hold formal bilateral meetings.
Trump Abe signing white ball caps that read, “Donald and Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater” pic.twitter.com/VTVOxut97p
— Michael C. Bender (@MichaelCBender) November 5, 2017
The golf outing aimed to recreate the bond the two men forged during Abe’s visit in February to Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where they played a round. It was while the two leaders dined together that evening that Kim launched a missile test, prompting an angry condemnation from both men at a joint statement to reporters in Florida.
Trump, who had spent Saturday night in Honolulu and toured Pearl Harbor, seemed in buoyant spirits Sunday. He wore an unbuttoned, open-collared white shirt with no tie to chat with the press on Air Force One, and he enthusiastically donned the brown leather bomber jacket presented to him by Air Force officers at Yokota. « I like this better, » he joked, after replacing his navy blue suit coat.
Trump confirmed that he expects to meet with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, later in the trip. The meeting would come as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia has heated up. Last week, Mueller indicted three people in Trump’s orbit — two senior campaign aides and one lower-level, unpaid volunteer — as part of his ongoing investigation.
But the president, who has often expressed admiration for authoritarian leaders, has remained reluctant to criticize Putin.
The president also promised that trade will also be a key focus of his trip, with China — a frequent target of his trade-related ire — looming largest on the economic front. Chinese President Xi Jinping consolidated power last month at the 19th Communist Party Congress, and Trump is preparing to face a newly emboldened Xi on his home turf.
“I think we’re going in with tremendous strength, » Trump said. When a reporter asked him about Xi’s elevated position, the president cut off the questioner, saying, “Excuse me, so am I.”
He then rattled off a laundry list of highlights of U.S. power, including the surging stock market, low unemployment and success in combating the Islamic State in the Middle East.
“I think he’s viewing us as very, very strong, and also very friendly,” Trump said. “But we have to do better with trade with China because it’s a one-way street right now and it has been for many years. And we will. But the reason our stock market is so successful is because of me. I’ve always been great with money, I’ve always been great with jobs, that’s what I do.”
Trump noted that he will spend the first anniversary of Election Day 2016 in China, and facetiously invited his traveling press corps to join him in the festivities. “Can you believe it is almost exactly one year? We’re going to be in China — together,” he said. “We’ll have to celebrate together, Nov. 8. I hope we’ll all celebrate together. In fact, I was going to have a big celebration party, and then I said, ‘Well.’ But we’ll celebrate together.”
Asked about a new book about former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, in which they sharply criticize Trump, the president showed uncharacteristic restraint.
“The Bushes? I’ll comment after we come back,” he said. “I don’t need headlines. I don’t want to make their book successful.”