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(3rd LD) Trump vows to reinforce alliances while putting 'America First'

All News 02:53 January 21, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES in paras 1-5 with quotes; CHANGES headline)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump pledged Friday to "reinforce all the alliances" but voiced strongly negative views of America's security commitments overseas as he was sworn in the 45th president of the United States.

"For many decades, we've enriched foreign industries at the expense of American industries, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own," Trump said in his inauguration address.

"From his day forward, it is going to be only America First, America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries," he said.

Trump said the U.S. will seek friendship and goodwill with other countries, but "with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first."

"We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow," he said. "We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones -– and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth."

(3rd LD) Trump vows to reinforce alliances while putting 'America First' - 1

Trump began the day with a prayer service at a church near the White House. Earlier in the morning, he tweeted, "It all begins today! I will see you at 11:00 A.M. for the swearing-in. THE MOVEMENT CONTINUES - THE WORK BEGINS!"

Trump and his wife, Melania, then headed to the White House and met with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama before they travelled together in a presidential limousine to the swearing-in ceremony.

The 70-year-old billionaire and former reality TV show host is the first U.S. president ever to be elected outside of the political establishment. His stunning victory in the November election reflected deep yearnings for change among American voters.

Under the catchphrase "Make America Great Again!" Trump campaigned on pledges to break the status quo, including by bringing jobs back from overseas, enforcing massive border control, and handling foreign relations with an "America First" principle, centering on putting U.S. interests ahead of anything else.

But his unconventional, unorthodox approach to long-undisputed values, such as alliances and security commitments, have put the rest of the world on edge as to where the United States will go under the former real-estate businessman.

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Trump takes over at a time when the U.S. has been struggling with a number of hard-to-handle issues, including the militant group Islamic State, an increasingly provocative North Korea and a host of problems to solve at home, including immigration reforms, job creation and economic inequality.

Of them, many officials and experts have singled out the North as the No. 1 challenge Trump faces.

The communist nation has sharply ratcheted up tensions in the runup to his inauguration, with leader Kim Jong-un saying in his New Year's Day address that the regime has entered the final stage of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile.

It was an apparent threat that the North is close to developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the continental U.S., after five underground nuclear blasts and a series of ballistic missile or rocket launches over the past decade.

In response, Trump vowed to stop the North from mastering such ICBM capabilities, saying that the North's development of a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. "won't happen," though he didn't elaborate how he would stop it.

North Korea appears to be unfazed by Trump's warning.

Officials in Seoul said earlier this week that the South and the U.S. have picked up signs that the North has readied two ICBMs for apparent test-firing, an indication that the threatened test could come earlier than expected.

(3rd LD) Trump vows to reinforce alliances while putting 'America First' - 3

Trump and aides have not outlined what their North Korea policy will look like. But it will likely center on pressuring China to exercise more of its leverage as the North's main food and energy provider to rein in the provocative regime.

The relationship with China is also where one of the biggest foreign policy changes is expected.

Trump has shown deeply negative views of China, repeatedly accusing Beijing of unfair trade and currency practices hurting American businesses, and slamming the country for failing to exercise enough pressure on North Korea to rein in the regime.

He has even raised questions why the U.S. should stick to the "one-China" policy of diplomatically recognizing only Beijing, not Taiwan, and spoke by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the first time in decades that a U.S. president or president-elect has done so, in a breach of the decadeslong diplomatic tradition.

Corroborating the hard-line stance on China, incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also denounced China's actions in the South China Sea as an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms and accusing Beijing of stealing "our intellectual property."

He also lashed out at Beijing for making "empty promises" to put pressure on North Korea and vowed to consider taking "actions" to get Beijing to fully enforce sanctions, raising the possibility of the U.S. imposing "secondary sanctions" on Chinese firms doing business with the North.

The U.S. is also expected to continue with the planned deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea despite heavy opposition from China. Trump's White House National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has said THAAD is a symbol of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

Trump's policies on alliances and trade are also key points to watch.

During the campaign, Trump portrayed alliances as something the U.S. can abandon unless they make economic sense and urged allies to pay more for American troops stationed in those countries to help protect them.

Since his election, however, Trump has significantly toned down the campaign rhetoric and filled some key posts with people valuing the alliances, such as incoming Defense Secretary James Mattis and Flynn.

Mattis said during his confirmation hearing last week that the U.S. is "stronger when we uphold our treaty obligations. He also ruled out the possibility of withdrawing troops and pledged to try to create more alliances.

That, however, doesn't mean the new U.S. government will go easy on its demand for allies to pay more.

Tillerson said last week that the U.S. "cannot look the other way at allies that do not meet their obligations." Mattis also said while the U.S. fulfills its treaty obligations, he expects "our allies and partners to uphold their obligations as well."

Free trade could suffer a setback after Trump takes office.

Trump, who blamed free trade for many American economic woes, has pledged to rescind the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal signed by 12 Asia-Pacific nations and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He has also denounced the FTA with South Korea as a disaster, though stopped short of saying directly he would seek to renegotiate it. Attempts to revise or renegotiate the agreement could set off diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Washington.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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