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MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Two became three as a scheduled Monday morning meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was expanded to include Japan’s Shinzo Abe.
The change underscored the growing three-way relationship concerning regional security, especially regarding how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, as well as countering China’s increasingly assertive maritime territorial claims.
“The key for us is to ensure very close trilateral cooperation so as to bring peace and stability on the ground,” said the Japanese leader, who has been displaying a united front against North Korea with Trump.
“We’ve got the same values and the same focus on ensuring that the North Korean regime comes to its senses and stops its reckless provocation and threats of conflict in our region,” Turnbull said. “Peace and stability have underpinned the prosperity of billions of people over many decades, and we’re going to work together to ensure we maintain it.”
Show of military force
A massive naval drill involving three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups is underway in western Pacific waters as a show of force.
The U.S. naval vessels and aircraft have been joined by elements of the South Korean navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.
Trump says he will make “a major statement” on North Korea and trade when he returns to Washington following his 12-day, five-nation trip to Asia.
“We’ve made a lot of big progress on trade,” Trump said at the start of his meeting with Turnbull and Abe on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, adding that his Asia trip has generated $300 billion “in sales to various companies, including China.” However, he offered no details on the coming announcement.
Trump also had a one-on-one meeting on Monday with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who is the host for the ASEAN summit.
“We’ve have a great relationship,” Trump said. “This has been very successful.”
Reporters tried to query whether Trump had raised the issue of human rights with Duterte.
The U.S. president did not respond. Duterte, facing strong criticism from human rights groups internationally, replied, “Whoa, whoa. This not a press statement. This is the bilateral meeting.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said of the meeting between Trump and Duterte: “The conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs, and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.”