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With Asia Trip, Trump Hopes To Shift Focus From Russia To North Korea

South Koreans hold flags during a rally welcoming U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to the country in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Friday.

President Trump is taking a dog-eared page from the unofficial White House manual: when things are bad at home, go abroad.

With his domestic agenda seemingly stalled and indictments this week from special counsel Robert Mueller's office, the president will set off for Asia, where he no doubt hopes to shift the focus from Russia to North Korea.

It will be Trump's first trip to Asia as president — with a brief stop in Hawaii before heading to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines that wraps up on Nov. 14.

As Reuters notes: "The last time a U.S. president was in Asia for so long was in late 1991 and early 1992, when President George H.W. Bush became ill at a Japanese state dinner."

NPR's Scott Horsley says tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests are "the looming cloud on the horizon that's shaping much of this trip."

"During the campaign, Trump was critical of allies like Japan and South Korea, suggesting they were not contributing enough to their own defense, and that was costing the U.S. taxpayer," Scott tells Morning Edition. "Since coming into office, though, Trump has taken a more traditional position, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the protection of these allies, especially in the face of nuclear threats from Kim Jong Un."

As The Washington Post reports: "Trump's advisers have outlined three guiding themes to the trip: a tough line on North Korea's nuclear threat; a commitment to an 'open and free' Indo-Pacific region (or rather, a check on Chinese maritime pushiness); and a reckoning with Asian partners over what Trump sees as unfair trade deficits."

Reuters adds: "The goal of Trump's visit will be to increase international support for efforts to deprive North Korea of resources as leverage to coerce it to give up nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said."

In Japan, first daughter Ivanka Trump has already arrived. The president is expected to play a friendly round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a three-day visit "with Abe hoping to deepen his personal relationship with Trump," according to The Japan Times.

The English-language daily, quoting sources, says "the hospitality will include beefsteak, a favorite of the U.S. leader, at a high-end Tokyo restaurant."

According to the newspaper:

"On Monday morning, Trump will meet Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Later Monday, Trump and Abe will hold a summit followed by a joint news conference.

Also on Monday, Trump will hold talks with relatives of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea decades ago. He will leave Japan for South Korea on Tuesday."

In South Korea, Scott reports, Trump will "visit a newly-expanded military base, that South Korea mostly paid for. Eventually that base will house many of the 28,000 American troops on the peninsula."

He adds that the contrast is sharp between Trump, with his domestic problems, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who just secured a second term and had his vision for China enshrined in the country's constitution.

"Despite that somewhat unequal footing, Trump seems to get along well with Xi. And, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says [that] while China must do more to help put the brakes on North Korea's nuclear program, the U.S. is pleased with steps China's taken so far," Scott tells Morning Edition.

In Vietnam and the Philippines, Trump will attend regional summits — the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Danang, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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