south korea

When President Trump returned this week from a 12-day, five-nation swing through Asia, he gave himself high marks for the "tremendous success of this trip."

But experts say that while he avoided major blunders during his stops in South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, the president missed more than one opportunity to offer his administration's strategic vision for the region — the world's largest, most populous and fastest growing.

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Updated at 5 a.m. ET

President Trump said the U.S. was committed to working toward a diplomatic solution with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, but that Washington was prepared to use a "full range" of military options if necessary.

His remarks were made at a joint news conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in held in at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on the second leg of Trump's five-nation tour of Asia.

During his visit to Tokyo on Monday, President Trump highlighted a dark moment in Japan's history when he met with families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents. In the 1970s, North Korea abducted at least a dozen Japanese citizens and took them to Pyongyang to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs. One abductee was 13.

President Trump has embarked on his longest and most ambitious foreign trip yet. Over the course of nearly two weeks, he will visit five countries in Asia, give major speeches, attend critical regional summits and meet with dozens of leaders. This would be a monumental undertaking for even the most experienced politician and White House, which Trump and his team are not.

To be fair, the president has not come into this visit cold. In large part because of North Korea, the administration has invested more time and resources in Asia than any other region.

President Trump on Monday pledged to stand by Japan against the "menace" of North Korea and said he hoped the two nations could come to a "free, fair and reciprocal" trade relationship.

President Trump kicked off his Asia tour Sunday with a warning that the U.S. will use its military might, if necessary, to fend off hostile threats.

"No one — no dictator, no regime and no nation — should underestimate, ever, American resolve," Trump told U.S. and Japanese troops, assembled inside a flag-draped aircraft hangar at the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. "We will never yield, never waver and never falter in defense of our people, our freedom and our great American flag."

Updated at 10:10 a.m. ET

With news from the special counsel's probe into Russian interference in the presidential election still swirling in Washington, President Trump is leaving Friday on his longest foreign trip to date.

The Asian odyssey will take him to five countries and two international summits. Trade issues and North Korea's nuclear threat are likely to dominate the discussions. Here's a quick primer on what to watch for at each stop:

Japan

South Korea faces a chronic dirty air problem that makes it one of the most polluted countries in the world. It's common to hear that neighboring China is to blame, but a joint study by NASA and the Korean government has found there's a lot South Korea can do on its own to cut the smog.

President Trump won office promising to overturn the global trade system, which he assured voters was rigged against the United States.

And he was particularly unhappy with the five-year-old trade deal with South Korea. At the White House on June 30, he underscored that concern, saying, "The fact is that the United States has trade deficits with many, many countries and we cannot allow that to continue. And we'll start with South Korea right now."

The South Korean government made a rare formal overture to its counterpart in the North on Monday, proposing that the longstanding rivals open new military talks along their shared border. It is the first such offer under South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, who signaled his willingness to talk with Pyongyang during his campaign earlier this year.

On the Fourth of July, North Korea marked a milestone by firing an intercontinental ballistic missile that soared high into space before turning around and landing in the sea near Japan. The North's state media said the missile, Hwasong-14, flew 580 miles, reaching an altitude of 1,741 miles, and flew for nearly 40 minutes.

Listen closely to what U.S. officials like to say about America's long security alliance with South Korea, where 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in bases around the country. Something in the language perpetually pops up:

"America's commitment to defending our allies ... remain[s] ironclad," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Seoul in February.

An American THAAD missile defense system is now operational in South Korea, less than two months after its components arrived there, the U.S. military says.

The system is meant to protect South Korea from ballistic missiles fired by North Korea, the Pentagon says. But China and other critics of the move say it will only increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The decision to install the missile shield was made by the U.S. and South Korea last July.

President Trump says that while he would like to resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear program diplomatically, it will be hard — and there is a potential for a major clash with the Asian nation, Trump said in an interview with Reuters.

"There's a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely," the president told the news agency. "We'd love to solve things diplomatically but it's very difficult."

A U.S. Navy strike group has been ordered to relocate to the western Pacific Ocean, providing a physical presence near the Korean Peninsula as concerns mount over North Korea's missile program.

The Pentagon announced the deployment late Saturday. In a statement, U.S. Pacific Command spokesman David Benham said the Carl Vinson Strike Group set sail toward the peninsula from Singapore.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. doesn't want to take military action against North Korea, but "all of the options are on the table" if a serious threat arises. Tillerson made his frank remarks in a visit to South Korea on Friday, a day after saying diplomatic efforts "have failed" to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Tillerson's Asia tour began in Japan and will end in China. The top American diplomat is traveling without a press contingent.