Mike Pence to tour Asia next month amid Trump concerns

Mike Pence to tour Asia next month amid Trump concerns

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the American Health Care Act during a visit to the Harshaw-Trane Parts and Distribution Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday. — Reuters

JAKARTA —  US Vice President Mike Pence will visit Japan and Indonesia next month, sources said on Monday, as part of an Asian tour amid concerns the Trump administration is rolling back Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia.” US President Donald Trump has already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which was seen as an economic pillar of the strategy. The tour will also include South Korea and Australia, the Nikkei Asian Review reported, with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs and South Korea’s political crisis likely topics for discussion. China has been infuriated by South Korea’s plan to deploy a US missile defense system, targeted at the North Korean threat, and South Korea is going through political turmoil after the dismissal of its president in a corruption probe. Pence is also expected to visit Tokyo for the US-Japan economic dialogue, according to a source familiar with the matter. The visit comes after North Korea’s latest missile launches and the assassination in Malaysia of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother added urgency to the region’s security. It will also follow this month’s trip by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Japan, South Korea, and China. The TPP had been the main economic pillar of the Obama administration’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region in the face of a fast-rising China. Proponents of the pact have expressed concerns that abandoning the project, which took years to negotiate, could further strengthen China’s economic hand in the region at the expense of the United States. Indonesia’s chief security minister said Pence would meet President Joko Widodo to discuss terrorism and other security issues on his visit. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and has recently grappled with a series of low-level militant attacks inspired by Daesh (the so-called IS). “We discussed the planned visit of US vice president Mike Pence to Indonesia and the strategic problems that can be on the agenda to discuss with our president,” chief security minister Wiranto told reporters after meeting the US ambassador to Jakarta. He added that no dates had been finalized. In Indonesia, Pence is also expected to discuss a brewing contract dispute between the government and American mining giant Freeport McMoran Inc, said two Indonesian government sources.