Donald Trump is heading to Asia, and he'll have to be on his best behaviour

Donald Trump is heading to Asia, and he'll have to be on his best behaviour

Donald Trump is heading to Asia, and he'll have to be on his best behaviour

Updated 3 November 2017, 22:40 AEDT

One year after being elected US President, Donald Trump is embarking on his first Asian tour.

Donald Trump is embarking on his first Asian tour, visiting Japan, South Korea and China before heading to Vietnam and the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits.

With North Korea and trade issues at the top of the agenda, the focus will be on the US President's remarks and his notedly unfiltered Twitter feed as he navigates his third major international tour.

ABC correspondents in Japan, South Korea and China took a look at the likely points of friction at each leg.

Japan

By Rachel Mealey in Tokyo

Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and Mr Trump share a chummy relationship.

Mr Abe was the first world leader to travel to the United States to congratulate Mr Trump on his election win, and the pair have shared some convivial catch-ups since then, including a game of golf at the President's Florida resort Mar-a-Lago back in February.

But the two men haven't always had an easy relationship. Mr Trump sent anxiety levels in Japan running high during the presidential campaign when he suggested he would scale back the US military's protection of Japan.

"You know we have a treaty with Japan, where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States," he said in August last year.

"If we're attacked, Japan doesn't have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, OK?"

In the same campaign speech he suggested Japan and other nations which fall under the US's protection umbrella didn't pay enough for the arrangement.

"They don't pay anything near what it costs," he said.

But since Mr Trump's election to office, the language regarding the US treaty has changed.

At a joint press conference in February, Mr Trump put all that past nastiness behind him.

"The US-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Pacific region," he said.

"The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep."

However it was during this meeting that Mr Abe was on the receiving end of one of Mr Trump's prolonged handshakes.

On the economic front, Mr Trump has also set Japanese hearts racing, making wild statements about Japan's currency, auto industry and trade deals.

Soon after his inauguration as President, Mr Trump removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

At the time, Mr Abe said a TPP without the United States was "meaningless", but since then Japan has changed its tune.

Japan has led the charge for the remaining 11 signatory nations in the TPP to reach a broad agreement and bring the pact into effect.

This is one slightly awkward issue between the two countries at the moment.

The US is keen to start discussing a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan, but Japan wants to press on with the TPP negotiations in the hope the US will re-join down the track.

But this trip is likely to be more about PPAP than the TPP.

The two leaders are expected to stick to talking tough on North Korea, playing golf and watching a live rendition of Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen (PPAP).

South Korea

By national affairs correspondent Greg Jennett

America has had 13 presidents since the Korean Peninsula erupted into war in 1950.

Mr Trump is incomparable to the other 12 — and the schedule for his visit to Seoul will prove it.

US officials have talked down anticipation of a presidential visit to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on the North-South border — a "cliche" is their description of the practice of world leaders who go to peer behind the communist curtain.

If he skips a trip to the DMZ, that leaves Mr Trump more time to settle on a united approach to the North Korean problem with South Korea's President, Moon Jae-in — a leader much more nuanced in his approach to the threat posed by the Kim regime.

Via Twitter, Mr Trump has effectively accused Mr Moon of "appeasement" for sending aid into the North — an act of soft diplomacy and "strategic patience", which the White House has long since abandoned.

But while "Rocket Man" jibes at Kim Jong-un and talk of "fire and fury like the world has never seen" is more Mr Trump's style, will he include such barbs when addressing Korea's National Assembly?

A speech too bellicose in tone risks offending general sentiment among South Koreans and Mr Moon himself — both want peace and, eventually, Korean reunification — and would almost certainly be met with some show of North Korean force in response.

Just as he'll be under pressure to dial his security diplomacy back to safe and constructive settings, Mr Trump is also likely to do the same on the touchy topic of trade.

He has previously described the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement as a "horrible deal", but the Koreans resent being bullied on it and have recently agreed to look at negotiating some changes.

White House officials, the State Department and Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis have laid the groundwork for a presidential visit America's allies throughout the Asian region will score Donald Trump against — words such as "engagement", "constancy", "reinforcement" and "reaffirmation" are strewn throughout the President's briefings.

To get a pass mark on the Korean leg of his journey, his hosts will look to Mr Trump to leave the "fire and fury" talk back in Washington, leave US weaponry in the holster, and leave a valuable ally to its own tactics of persuasion and coercion against the one leader capable of more surprises than Mr Trump himself — Mr Kim.

China

By China correspondent Matthew Carney

Many Chinese don't know what to expect from Mr Trump.

During the US presidential campaign he said China was stealing American jobs, threatened a trade war and called them a currency manipulator.

But in power, Mr Trump's rhetoric has softened.

Just last week, he boasted he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had the "best relationship of any president" and after their first meeting at Mar-a-Lago in Florida "goodwill and friendship has formed".

When Mr Trump arrives in China on November 8, he'll be dealing with Mr Xi, a leader at the zenith of power, a man with a clear and articulated vision of China's dominance in the world.

In contrast, Mr Trump is embattled at home with no great knowledge or, indeed, experienced hands to help him navigate China's rise.

China is likely to give some token wins for Mr Trump to take home, like one-off economic trade deals, but not the large-scale access to its markets and ownership rights America needs to redress its massive trade imbalance with the country.

On North Korea, China has signalled there probably will be "deeper cooperation" in dealing with the nuclear threat.

But their fundamental difference will remain. China believes negotiation is the answer, while Mr Trump seems to favour confrontation.

China has already made it clear there can be no negotiation on its rise as a world power. It has already flatly rejected any suggestion from the White House that India could be used to limit its power in Donald Trump's "free and and open Indo-Pacific" vision.

The meeting will come at a critical point, amid the biggest global shift since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rise of one superpower and the retreat of another.

China is in the ascendency and Mr Xi now has absolute control and unquestioned power to deliver his "new era" and China's "great rejuvenation". It's a destiny that will erode America's dominance over Asia and the Pacific, and American leadership of the global economy if the US doesn't act now to counter it.

It will reset the global stage for leadership and conflict for decades if not years.

China's assertive foreign policy is the new reality and to underline it, while the world has been focused on North Korea, China has been busy building new islands in the South China Sea.