Whirlwind Asia-Pacific visit for US VP
US Vice President Mike Pence visiting key allies in the Asia-Pacific region with his wife, Karen, and two daughters, Charlotte and Audrey.
He’s visited Seoul, South Korea on Easter Sunday; Tokyo, Japan on April 19; Jakarta, Indonesia on April 20; and will be in Sydney on April 22 and 23 before flying to Honolulu, Hawaii, on April 24.
Mr Pence could title this the “Pacifying the Asia-Pacific Tour”.
On the campaign trail and in the early days of his presidency, US President Donald Trump lived up to his nickname of Disruptor-in-Chief with protectionist talk and calling out South Korea and Japan for not paying their way militarily and their trade policies.
Just days after his inauguration Mr Trump abruptly ended a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the asylum-seeker deal.
In Indonesia, Mr Trump’s executive orders banning citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations was not welcomed.
Adding to the bad will, one of Mr Trump’s first moves was to rip up the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US, Australia, Japan and nine other Pacific Rim nations.
The official word from the White House is during the tour Mr Pence “will emphasise President Trump’s continued commitment to US alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, highlight the administration’s economic agenda, and underscore America’s unwavering support for our troops at home and abroad”.
The Trump Administration’s early Asia-Pacific focus has been on the Koreas, Japan and China, rather than Australia and south-east Asia so there is hope Mr Pence’s visit this weekend will give some clues to the White House’s strategic vision for Australia and the region.
The US and Australian governments will be keen to put Mr Trump’s fiery phone call with Mr Turnbull behind them.
The asylum-seeker deal that raised Mr Trump’s blood pressure to boiling point during the call is still in the works and Mr Pence is expected to say the right things about it while in Australia.
The US and Australia are keen to build on their military alliance now that disagreements over cost-sharing for Northern Territory military bases and the US Marines rotational force have been solved.
Mr Pence will meet with Mr Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and US and Australian military members during the visit and will focus “on American businesses, jobs, and the economy”.
Pence flew directly into the high-stakes stand-off between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday, with the hermit state threatening “nuclear fire of justice”. North Korea attempted and failed to launch a missile on its east coast on Sunday.
South Korea’s own political situation is in flux with a presidential election set for May 9 after former president Park Geun-hye was removed from office in December after a bribery scandal.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aggressively built a relationship with Mr Trump, dropping in to Trump Tower in Manhattan just days after the election victory and then followed up with a February visit to the White House and then a side golfing trip to Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Pence once again pledged the Trump administration’s commitment to defending its allies in Asia from North Korea and any other threats. He also made a pitch for Trump’s economic policies, telling US and Japanese business leaders a tax overhaul and cut in regulations would help business on both sides of the Pacific.
Mr Pence met President Joko Widodo, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and, noting the 40th Anniversary of US-ASEAN relations, he will hold talks with ASEAN officials.
The Indonesian visit has been circled by some US officials as the “most interesting to watch”.
After Mr Trump’s failed attempt to block some Muslim nations’ citizens from entering the US, Mr Pence is expected to make an attempt to show the White House’s support for religious tolerance.
Notable, the vice president – a committed Christian – also toured the largest mosque in Indonesia and participated in a dialogue with interfaith religious leaders.