U.S. President Donald Trump, right, wears a flight jacket before addressing U.S. military personnel at Yokota Air Base in Fussa, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan. (Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

Trump Says U.S. to Push for `Open and Free' Pacific on Asia Trip

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump rallied U.S. troops as he kicked off an 11-day tour of Asia in Japan, saying he would push for freedom in the region and fair trade in meetings with other leaders.

“We will seek new opportunities for cooperation and commerce, and we will partner with friends and allies to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific region,”  Trump told U.S. and Japanese military personnel on Sunday at Yokota Air Base, a U.S. Air Force facility in western Tokyo. “We will seek free, fair and reciprocal trade. But this future is only within our grasp because of you.”

The president arrived in Japan amid heightened concerns over provocations from North Korea, which continues to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in defiance of international sanctions. Trump has threatened military action to stop Kim Jong Un’s regime from obtaining the ability to strike the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

Trump praised Japan, calling it a “treasured partner and crucial ally” of the U.S. He also pledged strong support for the military.

“As long as I am president, the service men and women who defend our nation will have the equipment, the resources and the funding they need to secure our homeland, to respond to our enemies quickly and decisively, and when necessary to fight, to overpower, and to always, always, always win,” he said.

During an interview Thursday with Fox News, Trump said the citizens of Japan “should be worried” by their proximity to North Korea.

“I tell everyone else that, listen, you’re going to have yourself a big problem with Japan pretty soon if you allow this to continue with North Korea,” Trump said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party was re-elected in a general election last month after pledging a hard line on North Korea and a push to change Japan’s pacifist constitution written after World War II. He has been one of Trump’s most reliable allies in dealing with Kim, emphasizing the need for pressure over dialogue.

“The president recognizes that we’re running out of time and will ask all nations to do more,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters on Thursday.

The U.S. and Japan entered a security agreement in 1960, and an estimated 50,000 U.S. personnel are stationed in the country. Japan spent $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2015 as part of the cost of hosting the U.S. military.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called on Japan to significantly increase its contribution to funding American bases like Yokota.

“Of course they should pick up all the expense,” Trump said in an interview with CNN in May 2016. “Why are we paying for this?”

Asked if the president stood by his assertion during a background briefing for reporters, a senior administration official said it would be up to the Japanese people to decide, but that the U.S. would seek continued burden sharing as defense systems to protect Japan were updated.

Trump has also hit out at Japan over a bilateral trade deficit that hit $69 billion last year, the U.S.’s second-largest behind China. Japan has sought to salvage the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that Trump withdrew from shortly after taking office.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.