Multiple news outlets have confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Asia and Australia next month. He is expected to visit Japan, China, and Indonesia, among other stops.
A “senior administration official” told CNN that South Korea is also on his itinerary.
Pence’s visit will follow the first international trip by a President Trump cabinet official – Defense Secretary James Mattis’s stops in Japan and South Korea last month – as well as a scheduled trip by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, expected to take place this week.
CNN reports that in Tokyo, Pence plans to discuss “ways to strengthen the economy in Japan and the United States.” Reports of a scheduled visit to Japan have circulated in Japanese media for weeks, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, following his visit to Washington in February, reportedly agreed to host Pence.
Earlier this month, Japan’s Kyodo News reported that Pence would likely spend April 17-18 in Tokyo and hold economic talks with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso. “We will be discussing a wide range of issues, such as strengthening trade and investment ties as well as economic cooperation,” Aso told reporters at the time.
The Japanese government is also hoping to have President Donald Trump visit by the end of this year. “We want him to visit Japan as soon as possible,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in mid-February.
In Indonesia, Reuters reports that Pence will meet with President Joko Widodo and likely “discuss terrorism and other security issues.” The U.S. embassy in Jakarta held a press conference after a meeting on Monday between Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto and Ambassador Joseph R. Donovan on Monday.
“We discussed the planned visit of U.S. [V]ice [P]resident Mike Pence to Indonesia and the strategic problems that can be on the agenda to discuss with our president,” Wiranto told reporters.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country and home to a burgeoning radical Islamic movement. Islamic clerics have banned most celebrations associated with Christmas and Valentine’s Day, yet both holidays still attract large mobs of angry anti-Christian protesters. The governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is currently on trial for blasphemy after quoting a paragraph from the Quran as an ethnic Chinese Christian.
Pence was reportedly invited to Australia following a visit to the United States by Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop; the content of any discussions in Canberra have yet to be revealed, though both nations have a vested interest in curbing Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea, a matter of grave concern in Australia.
Likewise, details of what Pence will discuss in South Korea and China have not surfaced, though both are struggling to contain a common threat: North Korea. Once a reliable ally, China has retracted much of its support for Pyongyang, cutting its economic ties to the Kim regime significantly since the murder of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. Joint South Korean-American military exercises are currently underway, infuriating Pyongyang and leaving much for Pence and the interim South Korean administration to discuss following the ouster of President Park Geun-hye.
Many of these same concerns will follow Secretary of State Tillerson upon his arrival to Asia this week. Tillerson is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Wednesday, South Korea on Friday, and China on Saturday, according to the Diplomat. The outlet notes that Tillerson will likely meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, and possibly President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Xi has reportedly also agreed to a meeting with President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in the near future.
The visits “will allow Secretary Tillerson to engage allies and partners, on not only on a range of bilateral issues, but also importantly to discuss and coordinate strategy to address the advancing nuclear missile threat from North Korea,” according to Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has refused to be forthcoming on details of Tillerson’s visit. Speaking to reporters on Monday, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “You are all very interested in the specific arrangement and agenda of Secretary Tillerson’s visit to China. We will release relevant information in due course.” Tillerson has made public remarks condemning China’s militarization of South China Sea territories it does not legally control.
In Japan and South Korea, Tillerson will be building on the progress Defense Secretary James Mattis made in boosting bilateral ties with both nations. While in Japan, Mattis warned the Chinese government not to attempt to colonize Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which China claims as its own, while stating the Trump administration stands “firmly, 100 percent, shoulder-to-shoulder with you [PM Abe] and (the) Japanese people.”