Philippines, Japan move for stronger security ties in face of rising China threat

WASHINGTON/TOKYO/SEOUL: Donald Trump’s allies are assuring officials in Japan and South Korea that the Republican presidential nominee will support a Biden-era effort to deepen trilateral ties aimed at countering China and North Korea, five people familiar with the conversations said. . .
In conversations in recent weeks, political advisers close to Trump have conveyed this message to officials in Seoul and Tokyo: If Trump takes office again, the former US president will support the two capitals’ work to warm once-cold ties and advance in army. , economic and diplomatic cooperation to ease global tensions, the people said.
The conversations were described to Reuters by Republicans and officials from each of the Asian countries, many of whom were directly involved.
The previously unreported push is part of an effort by Trump allies to convince Washington’s closest friends in Asia that his shattering approach to traditional alliances ends at the shores of the Indo-Pacific.
There, the US faces heightened tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, a new Chinese partnership with Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s courting of North Korea.
“I assured them that the alliance would be strong, that Trump recognizes that we need to work closely with our allies to protect their interests,” said Fred Fleitz, a former chief of staff for Trump’s National Security Council, who traveled to Japan and met with officials. there, including national security adviser Takeo Akiba this month.
Those conversations carry added weight after Biden’s disastrous debate performance on Thursday, which may push undecided voters toward Trump and spur calls for him to withdraw from the 2024 race.
Trump’s allies have presented other foreign policy plans if he wins in November, including a Ukraine peace plan and one to restructure NATO funding. Reassurances for Japan and South Korea go further as they include direct talks with foreign officials. In May, former Trump foreign policy officials met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump’s campaign has not confirmed whether it will accept those proposals.
“Nobody has the authority to talk to a foreign government and make promises on behalf of President Donald Trump,” said Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, when asked about the assurances. The policy section of the Trump campaign website does not address this topic.
Fleitz said he was not speaking for Trump and instead offered an assessment based on his experience with the candidate. He said the US, Japan and South Korea would likely work together to counter China and North Korea under another Trump term.
Dozens of meetings have been held or scheduled at the highest levels of the Japanese and South Korean governments with right-wing think tanks such as the America First Policy Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute, known for planning policy that Trump might implement it. 2025, sources said.
An Asian official briefed on the recent regional meetings with Trump’s allies said their government takes the meetings seriously and considers them a plausible representation of where Trump is.

Plans for Trump’s second term
The conversations show a serious and early effort by Trump allies to outline policy priorities for a second Trump presidency months before the 2024 US election, in which Trump leads in battleground states that could decide the race.
Trump’s 2016 election win took countries by surprise and left them reeling from the new president’s views as he hastily assembled White House advisers.
The consortium of conservative think tanks known as “Project 2025” that is making detailed plans for a second Trump presidency describes South Korea and Japan in their handbook as “crucial allies” in the military, economy, diplomacy and technology.
But the manual also calls for pushing South Korea to “take the lead in conventional defense against North Korea,” reflecting Trump’s concern about taking on too much financial responsibility for the security of other countries. Project 2025 said it does not speak for the Trump campaign.

Biden’s support plan
Still, Republican action in Asia represents a narrow area of ​​potential continuity between Trump and Biden.
The Democratic US president took over from Trump in 2021 after a bitter election campaign and prioritized upending traditional alliances like the ones Trump has sometimes denigrated.
Biden encouraged South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to work together and overcome decades of mutual suspicion and animosity.
The effort culminated in a Camp David summit between the leaders last summer, which pledged new defense cooperation amid nuclear threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sovereignty claims over democratically-ruled Taiwan.
“My view, and President Trump shares this, is the deeper the economic ties between the three countries, the stronger the ties will be,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, who served as ambassador to Japan in the Trump administration . remains in touch with Asian governments and is seen by some in those circles as a likely second-term Trump nominee.
Another former Trump official described the conversations as partly campaign tactics, adding that “the main allegation from Democrats is that he abandoned friends and allies and went it alone. Now he’s more careful not to give the Democrats any new room to attack.”

Welcome sign
In Seoul and Tokyo, where officials are weighing a possible Trump return to office, Republican messages of solidarity were welcomed as a welcome signal that Trump’s Asia policy may vary from the hard-nosed approach that angered allies in Ottawa in Brussels.
While polls show Biden and Trump in a tight race, Yoon and Kishida face withering polls at home, raising the question of whether the spirit of Camp David will endure a change of leadership in any of the three countries.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “not only necessary but natural” for the three countries to work together and that the effort had won bipartisan support in the United States, including under the previous administration.
“Japan is watching the US presidential election with interest, but is not in a position to comment individually on elections in third countries,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that the alliance enjoys bipartisan support.
Spokesmen for the Biden campaign and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
“I don’t see any reason why trilateral cooperation would falter at all,” said Alexander Gray, former White House National Security Council chief of staff under Trump and now CEO of American Global Strategies, a Washington think tank. “There’s a general concern, which I think is unfounded, that President Trump would abandon things that Joe Biden started and, you know, abandon them because Joe Biden was involved in them.”

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