David R. Stilwell, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will visit the region in his first overseas trip beginning later this week, the U.S. Department of State announced in a press release.
Stilwell, who was confirmed last month and is the Trump administration’s first non-acting assistant secretary in the East Asian and Pacific affairs bureau, will visit all four U.S. treaty allies in Asia.
He will begin his trip with a visit to Tokyo, Japan, beginning on July 11 and lasting through July 14. From Tokyo, Stilwell will travel south to the Philippines, where he will spend two days and lead the U.S. delegation to the Eighth U.S.-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD).
On July 17, Stilwell is scheduled for a one day trip to Seoul, South Korea. Finally, he will head back south to Bangkok, Thailand, for two days. Stilwell’s trip will conclude on July 19.
Stilwell’s travel to the region comes amid a worsening bilateral spat between Tokyo and Seoul over Japan’s recent decision to impose export controls on South Korea. Though both countries are U.S. allies, relations between the two of them have been difficult over the past year.
The United States has, with some exceptions, avoided brokering between Japan and South Korea. Reflecting this impulse, Stilwell’s itinerary takes him from Tokyo to Manila instead of directly to Seoul.
The State Department may be keen to avoid the impression that Stilwell is shuttling between Japan and South Korea at a time of heightened bilateral tensions.
The agenda for his trip, according to the State Department, includes a heavy focus on the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy. In both Seoul and Tokyo, Stilwell will discuss the Indo-Pacific region and allied cooperation.
The agenda for his trip to Manila is mostly centered on the BSD, according to the State Department. In Thailand, Stilwell will “engage officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister on bilateral priorities and Thailand’s year as chair of ASEAN,” the State Department noted.
Stilwell was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 13 in a 94-3 vote. He is a former U.S. Air Force general and speaks Korean, Chinese, and some Japanese, according to his State Department biography.
During his military career, Stilwell was the U.S. defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and directed the China Strategic Focus Group at U.S. Pacific Command (now Indo-Pacific command).