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Trump touts ‘crucial’ alliance with Japan as he kicks off Asia tour

Servicemembers take photos of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017.

AARON KIDD/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 4, 2017

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — President Donald Trump lauded U.S. and Japanese troops gathered Sunday at a U.S. air base in western Tokyo for the confidence they provide America’s allies and the fear they strike into the hearts of their enemies.

Japan is “a treasured partner and crucial ally,” Trump said in the kickoff to his two-week, five-nation tour of Asia and his first presidential visit to the country.

“Our alliance is a testament to the transformative power of freedom,” he said, after servicemembers cheering “USA! USA!” welcomed him and first lady Melania Trump onto a stage inside a Yokota hangar. “Today, nations that once waged war now stand together as partners in pursuit of a much better world.”

Trump, who swapped his suitcoat for a leather flight jacket gifted by 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Kenneth Moss, spoke in front of a massive American flag and was flanked by a pair of U.S. fighter jets — an F-16 from Misawa Air Base on his right and the world’s most advanced stealth fighter, an F-35B Lightning II from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, on his left. One of Yokota’s new C-130J Super Hercules cargo planes sat bathed in sunlight just outside the hangar’s open doors.

America's enemies should know that the United States “will never yield, never wavier and never falter in the defense of our people,” he said, adding that U.S. troops are prepared to defend their nation “using the full range of our unmatched capabilities.”

His speech didn’t specifically mention North Korea, which has test-fired dozens of missiles in recent months and conducted its sixth and most powerful underground nuclear test on Sept. 3; however, it did mention “tyrants and dictators who seek to prey on the innocent.”

Trump told the troops that they are “the greatest hope for people who desire to live in freedom and harmony … because of patriots like you freedom will prevail.”

Before touching down in Japan, Trump denounced the North as “a big problem” that must “be solved.”
“There’s been 25 years of total weakness, so we are taking a very much different approach” toward Pyongyang, he told reporters traveling with him.

During his Yokota speech, Trump bragged about a surging stock market and falling unemployment at home and the successful campaign against Islamic State militants overseas. He then promised the servicemembers that plenty of top-notch military gear is headed their way.

“A lot of beautiful equipment is coming and nobody makes it like they do in the United States,” he said, adding: “We dominate the sky, we dominate the sea, we dominate the land and space, not only because we have the best equipment … more importantly, we have the best people.”

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tanner Spani, 34, of Panama City Beach, Fla., said he agreed with the president’s view of his fellow servicemembers.

“We have the best people who serve in the U.S. team,” said the radar airfield weather systems technician. “That’s what makes us proud and keeps us going.”

Marine Cpl. Alec Hochberg, 21, of Palm Harbor, Fla., who was visiting Yokota during a break in a deployment to Okinawa, said Sunday’s troop talk marked the first time he’d seen a president in the flesh.

“Not a lot of us get to see him,” he said.

Air Force Capt. Lauren Angelo, 29, a public health officer at Yokota, said she and her comrades loved that their commander in chief took time to visit them.

“You could feel the energy in the room,” she said.

After the speech, Trump boarded Marine One and flew to a golf course in nearby Saitama Prefecture to tee off with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama. The president said the relaxed atmosphere allowed the two leaders to speak frankly, and that they were able to “carry out in depth discussion, at times touching on various difficult issues.”

Afterward, he flew to central Tokyo, where he will spend the lion’s share of the tour’s Japan leg. His schedule includes bilateral security talks with Abe, a brief meeting at the Imperial Palace with Emperor Akihito, and visits with the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Trump is expected to remain in Tokyo until Tuesday, when Air Force One will lift off again for stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The president kickstarted his much-anticipated Asia tour with a stopover Friday in Hawaii, where he and the first lady laid a wreath of white flowers at the USS Arizona Memorial that honors the 1,177 crewmembers who died in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by the Japanese.

The White House said Trump’s trip “will underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Trump has two major speeches planned — one at South Korea’s National Assembly on Wednesday and the other on Nov. 10 in Vietnam where he’ll participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, meetings.

The question of how to deal with North Korea and trade talks also are expected to top his agenda.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

robson.seth@stripes.com

Twitter: @SethRobson1

President Donald Trump departs Air Force One and greets a crowd gathered to hear him speak at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017.
AARON KIDD/STARS AND STRIPES

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