Secretary of State Rex Tillerson returned Saturday to Asia where the Trump administration faces a bevy of problems after its first six months in office.
From North Korea’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons to increasingly-fraught relations with China and Russia, Tillerson will have his hands full at a summit of Southeast Asian nations in Manila, Philippines.
Following days of meetings and negotiations with foreign counterparts at the summit, the secretary of state will travel to Thailand and Malaysia for one-on-one meetings with leaders in both countries.
Here are the top issues he’ll be dealing with in his first trip to the region since March.
An increasingly urgent North Korea threat
A little over a week after North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile, this one capable of reaching even further distances than the first, the threat of the nation’s rogue regime launching a nuclear-tipped missile is even more urgent than ever before. But despite some tweets from President Trump saying he is fed up with North Korea’s provocations, the administration is continuing full-steam ahead on its policy of “peaceful pressure.”
Tillerson will be trying to twist arms in Manila to highlight the need for more pressure from countries that have ties to North Korea, first and foremost China.
It’s unclear how differently this approach will be received than it was five months ago when Tillerson traveled to Japan, South Korea, and China — a trip that ultimately failed to stop North Korea from its two ICBM tests.
The tactic of urging other countries to exert pressure is made even trickier by the presence of North Korea’s foreign minister at the conference, although the U.S. delegation will do its best to isolate him and even push for North Korea’s expulsion from the summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, according to America’s top diplomat for East Asia.
“What we would expect to see this year at the meeting would be a general chorus of condemnation of North Korea’s provocative behavior and pretty serious diplomatic isolation directed at the North Korean foreign minister,” acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton told reporters Wednesday.
If anything, though, China has grown increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration, deflecting blame for the crisis to North Korea and the U.S.
“No matter how capable China is, China’s efforts will not yield practical results because it depends on the…