US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China from October 6 to October 8. As these four Asian countries mean different things to the US, Pompeo's visits have different purposes.
Japan is the US' major ally in Asia, and lends significant meaning to Washington's Indo-Pacific strategy. But instead of giving Japan exemptions in trade, the US has been putting pressure on it because of Donald Trump administration's "America First" policy. The Trump administration increased contacts with Pyongyang, realizing the historic summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It marginalized Japan and put it into an awkward situation on the North Korea issue. When Pompeo visited Japan, he promised to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Washington would take up the issues that Japan cared about during the US negotiations with North Korea, especially missiles and the abduction of Japanese citizens, in order to pacify Tokyo.
North Korea is regarded as a crucial security threat by the US and its allies. North Korea's interactions with China, the US, Russia, Japan and South Korea are complicated, which makes Washington unable to launch a hasty military strike on Pyongyang. By imposing economic sanctions and other forms of deterrence, the Trump administration tightened the screws on North Korea. At the same time, Washington maintained contact with Pyongyang through multiple channels. But because of the mutual mistrust, the two countries' ambiguous denuclearization agreement can't make substantial progress.
South Korea is the US' important ally in Asia, and also an important source of support for Washington's policy toward Pyongyang. As South Korea has been at the forefront of the tensions with Pyongyang, it needs the US' security protection and thus has to obey Washington's strategic arrangements. South Korea has natural advantages in communicating with North Korea, and has played an important role in improving US-North Korea relations. The main purpose of Pompeo's visit to South Korea is to report his achievements from his visit cement US-South Korea alliance.
China is the world's second largest economy and has crucial stakes in the North Korean nuclear issue and the Asia-Pacific region.
As the Chinese economy develops rapidly, the US regards China as its potential challenger. The Trump administration has listed China as revisionist, strategic rival and one of its biggest challenges, and launched Indo-Pacific strategy targeting Beijing. The Trump administration is not only wielding a big trade stick but also piling up pressure on China in many areas. As China-US relations undergo changes, Pompeo's visit to China was meant to understand Beijing's attitude toward Washington so as to help the US in its policy toward China in the future.
Pompeo has generally achieved his purpose of visiting the four countries, but primary reason for his Asia trip was North Korea and China. Although Japan and South Korea are dissatisfied with White House's certain moves, the two countries have to tolerate and even flatter Washington. As a result, it's not too hard for Pompeo to pacify and rope in Japan and South Korea. The US' relations with the two countries will not change significantly in the future.Pompeo discussed with Kim the measures for denuclearization and establishing formal negotiating groups to start the process and work out a time and location for a follow-up meeting to the first Trump-Kim summit in June. These achievements show that Pompeo's visit to Pyongyang has served its purpose.
But considering the complexity of denuclearization and the lack of trust between the US and North Korea, any consensus reached is hard to implement. It's difficult to predict the US' policy toward North Korea and the future prospects of Washington-Pyongyang relations.
In China, Pompeo reported about his visit to North Korea, said that the US appreciates the Chinese side's consistent position on the peninsula issue and its efforts at promoting denuclearization, and hoped to further enhance cooperation.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China's positions on trade friction with the US, as well as the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue. Wang said a trade war would never solve problems and promised that China was still willing to negotiate with the US "on the basis of equality, honesty and solemnity." Pompeo said that despite obvious differences on many issues, the US did not mean to oppose China's development, and there was no policy to fully contain China. Pompeo also said that the US and China shoulder important responsibilities for world peace and prosperity. It is obvious that Pompeo understands China's attitude toward the US as well as Beijing's bottom line, and he has thus achieved his goal of visiting China. But because of a capricious US president, the future of US' policy toward China remains uncertain.