Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to begin his first trip to Asia in his new role and will attempt to forge cooperation with important U.S. allies in the region, while downplaying fears that the U.S. is looking to isolate itself diplomatically.
Tillerson will find shared anxiety at the North’s saber-rattling but less agreement about how to deal with it, and unresolved questions about how the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, can manage growing differences.
Japan and South Korea, which host American troops and are already within range of North Korean missiles, support U.S. efforts to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang.
The three navies were also conducting drills Wednesday in seas east of the divided Korean Peninsula and north of Japan to promote interoperability, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said.
Adding to the combustible mix of military tension and the region’s historic rivalries is another factor — uncertainty about U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.
Tillerson, who arrives in Tokyo late Wednesday at the start of his four-day, three-nation tour, could provide some reassurance to nervy allies. He will meet Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
The former Exxon Mobil CEO has adopted a low profile during his six weeks as secretary of state. The State Department Correspondents’ Association expressed disappointment Wednesday that Tillerson was traveling to Asia without a full contingent of the diplomatic press corps or even a pool reporter on his plane — although it is taking a reporter from the conservative-leaning website, the Independent Journal Review.