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 Biden-era efforts to deepen three-way ties to counter China and North Korea, five people familiar with the talks said. .
In talks in recent weeks, political advisers with Trump’s ear have conveyed this message to officials in Seoul and Tokyo: If Trump is re-elected, the former US president will support the two capitals’ work to warm once-frigid ties and improve military, economic and diplomatic cooperation to ease global tensions. tension, people say.
The talks were described to Reuters by Republicans and officials from each of the Asian countries, several of whom were directly involved.
The previously undeclared push is part of an effort by Trump’s allies to convince Washington’s closest friends in Asia that its fragile approach to traditional alliances ends on the shores of the Indo-Pacific.
There, the US faces heightened tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, China’s new partnership with Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s courtship of North Korea.
“I assured them that the alliance would be strong, that Trump recognizes that we have to work closely with our allies to defend their interests,” said Fred Fleitz, Trump’s former National Security Council chief of staff, who traveled to Japan and met with officials. including National Security Adviser Takeo Akiba this month.
The talks carry added weight after Biden’s disastrous performance in Thursday’s debate, which could push undecided voters toward Trump and fuel calls for him to withdraw from the 2024 race.
Trump’s allies have floated other foreign policy plans if he wins in November, including a Ukraine peace plan and a plan to restructure NATO funding. The assurances to Japan and South Korea go further as they involve 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 he would accept the 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 Trump campaign adviser, when asked about the assurances. The politics section of the Trump campaign website does not address the subject.
Fleitz said he was not speaking for Trump, but was providing an assessment based on his experience with the candidate. He said the US, Japan and South Korea are likely to 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, which are known to be planning policies Trump could implement in 2025, they said. sources.
An Asian official briefed on recent regional meetings with Trump allies said their government was taking the meetings seriously and considered them a credible representation of Trump’s position.

Trump is planning a second term
The talks show a serious, early effort by Trump allies to outline policy priorities for Trump’s second presidency months before the 2024 US election, in which Trump leads in battleground states that could decide the race.
Trump’s 2016 election victory took countries by surprise and left them scrambling to understand the new president’s views as he hastily assembled White House advisers.
A 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 its handbook as “critical allies” in the military, economy, diplomacy and technology.
But the handbook also calls for South Korea to be encouraged “to take the lead in its conventional defense against North Korea,” reflecting Trump’s concerns about taking on too much financial responsibility for the security of other countries. The 2025 Project said it does not speak for the Trump campaign.

Supports Biden plan
Still, the Republican rapprochement with Asia represents one narrow area of ​​potential continuity between Trump and Biden.
The Democratic US president took over from Trump in 2021 after a bitter campaign and has prioritized building traditional alliances like those Trump has sometimes disparaged.
Biden encouraged South Korean President Jun Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumi Kishida to work together and overcome decades of mutual suspicion and hostility.
The effort culminated in the leaders’ summit at Camp David last summer, which pledged new defense cooperation amid nuclear threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s claims to sovereignty over democratically-governed Taiwan.
“My view, which President Trump shares, is that the deeper we can build 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. in touch with Asian governments and some in those circles see him as a likely Trump for a second term.
Another former Trump official described the talks as partly a campaign tactic, adding that “the main charge against the Democrats is that he abandoned friends and allies and acted alone. Now he is more careful not to give Democrats new room for attack.

Welcome signal
In Seoul and Tokyo, where officials are mulling a possible Trump return to office, Republican messages of solidarity were received as a welcome signal that Trump’s Asia policy may vary from the hardline approach that has unsettled allies from Ottawa to Brussels.
While polls show Biden and Trump in a close race, Jun and Kishida face poor polls at home, raising questions about whether the spirit of Camp David will withstand a change in 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 received bipartisan support in the United States, including during the previous administration.
“Japan is following the US presidential election with interest, but is not in a position to individually comment 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 should falter at all,” said Alexander Gray, former White House National Security Council chief of staff under Trump and now executive director of American Global Strategies, a Washington-based 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, just abandon them because Joe Biden was involved in them.”

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