For all of President Donald Trump’s overheated talk about North Korea’s Kim Jung Un and the country’s nuclear program, Trump will likely not make the customary presidential visit to the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea known as the Demilitarized Zone during his 12-day trip to Asia next month.
Trump, who will stop in five nations on his first presidential trip to Asia, has derided Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if its leaders do not abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.
The White House said Monday that Trump was invited by Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Camp Humphreys, a military base about 40 miles south of Seoul, and that time constraints would likely not permit Trump to also travel to the border. In briefing reporters, the White House played down the notion that the decision stemmed from security concerns about a border visit and suggested that plans still could change.
If Trump doesn’t go, he would be breaking from recent presidential custom. All presidents but one since Ronald Reagan have made the visit to the DMZ, which has separated the North and South for 64 years. Often wearing bomber-style jackets and flanked by military officers, presidents have used binoculars to peer at the barren strip of land at the 38th parallel and delivered forceful remarks denouncing the threat posed by the rogue regime.
Vice President Mike Pence visited the DMZ in April and said his trip let North Koreans “see our resolve in my face.”
Trump has not been shy about slamming Kim, whether on Twitter or from the rostrum of the United Nations. But his inflammatory language has done little to deter the North Korean dictator, who has launched repeated missile tests, including some that have flown over Japan. A number of the United States’ Asian allies have nervously watched the drama unfold and called for a peaceful resolution.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore stood next to Trump in the Rose Garden on Monday and spent much of his remarks praising the United States and the president but also delicately advocated for diplomacy.
“There is no quick and easy solution,” Lee said. “Pressure is necessary, but so is dialogue.”
George H.W. Bush is the only president not to visit the DMZ since Reagan toured the border zone in 1983, though he did make his own trip while serving as vice president. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, visited during a 2012 trip to Seoul and told troops stationed at the border that “the contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker, both in terms of freedom but also in terms of prosperity.”
The dangers posed by Pyongyang will be a central theme of Trump’s trip, the longest of his presidency and first to Asia.
In Japan, his first stop in Asia, Trump is slated to meet with the families of Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime. In South Korea, Trump is scheduled to visit a military cemetery and deliver a speech to the national assembly in which he will call on the international community to maximize the pressure being placed on Kim, the White House said. And in China, which has long provided much of North Korea’s economic lifeblood, Trump will push Beijing to take further steps to isolate the dictatorship.
Trump also will use the trip to advocate for American economic interests in the region, including in meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump has long bemoaned the U.S. trade deficit with China, though he has signaled that he would soften his stance toward the continent’s growing economic power if it would step up its efforts at containing Pyongyang.
On November 8, the one-year anniversary of Trump’s stunning election win, the president will visit Beijing for a state visit with Xi. It was not clear if Trump, who made building a border wall a centerpiece of his campaign, will visit the Great Wall of China.
The trip will begin with a stop in Hawaii and end with a pair of summits, one in Vietnam and one in the Philippines. He will meet with President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of human rights abuses, including killing suspected drug dealers. The White House said Trump could raise concerns with the program.
Trump’s trip won’t be all business: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Trump in a phone call Monday that a joint outing with Japanese pro Hideki Matsuyama has been set up for Nov. 5, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry summary of the call.