US VP Pence Embarks on Trip to the Asia-Pacific Region

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has embarked on a trip to the Asia-Pacific region that will include a visit to South Korea Sunday amid a tense standoff along the Korean peninsula.

Pence left Washington Saturday on what will be on a 10-day, four-nation trip that will also include stops in Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Hawaii.

It is the vice president’s first official trip to the Asia-Pacific rim, where he will meet with leaders to discuss trade, economic and security issues, including North Korea’s  provocative military actions.

Vice Presidential spokesman Marc Lotter told VOA the trip will reinforce the administration’s approach of placing “extreme value on our alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Although North Korea did not conduct a nuclear test Saturday as some expected, leader Kim Jong Un presided over a military parade in celebration of the April 15 birthday of the late Kim Il Sung, his grandfather and the country’s founding leader.

Pence’s trip to South Korea comes less than two weeks after Pyongyang’s launch of a ballistic missile into waters off its east coast, prompting warnings from President Donald Trump that the U.S. would act unilaterally if necessary to end the country’s acts of aggression. It was the latest in a series of missile and nuclear tests North Korea has conducted in recent years.

The vice president will be tasked with reassuring South Korea and Japan the U.S. will help prevent regional conflict by defending them in the face of North Korean aggression.

While in South Korea, Pence will meet with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and with local business leaders. The vice president will also spend part of Easter Sunday with American and South Korean troops.

On Tuesday, Pence is scheduled to leave South Korea for Japan, where he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders are expected to initiate economic negotiations that were first announced by Trump and Abe after their meeting in February. Pence will also discuss economic issues with Japanese officials.

The trip is also an opportunity for Pence to discuss Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that would have included Australia and Japan.

When Pence visits Australia, he will meet with Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull who had a 25-minute phone call with Trump in the first days of his administration. Trump reportedly told Turnbull the agreement he reached with President Barack Obama to resettle refugees was the “worst deal ever.”

Trump eventually supported the agreement to resettle refugees that had tried to reach Australia, as long as the refugees are subject to “extreme vetting.”

Trump’s crackdown on immigration and travel from six Muslim-majority countries will likely be a topic of discussion with leaders of Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world. Although Indonesia is not on the list of predominately Muslim countries included in Trump’s travel ban, Indonesian leaders have expressed displeasure with the ban, which has been blocked by U.S. courts.

Beth Hughes contributed to this report

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