STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some other news, the new defense secretary is crossing the Pacific with two questions in the air. The first is how much James Mattis really speaks for the new president. The second is how Mattis can reassure traditional U.S. allies. He's visiting Japan and South Korea. NPR's Elise Hu is in Seoul.
OH MI-JEONG: (Over loudspeaker, speaking Korean).
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting, speaking Korean).
ELISE HU, BYLINE: When Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives at the South Korean Defense Ministry Friday, this daily throng of protesters will greet him. Kim Kang Yeon is one of them.
KIM KANG YEON: (Through interpreter) I think visiting Korea to continue with the existing agendas is an ill-advised action that in a way ignores the Korean people's will.
HU: What she means is the current Korean government may not last past the next few weeks. The defense minister that will meet with Mattis and the acting president are both appointees of an impeached president - Park Geun-hye. They're placeholders until the president's impeachment trial is over.
JOHN DELURY: You know, this is a real dilemma.
HU: John Delury is professor of international relations at Seoul's Yonsei University.
DELURY: It's a dilemma for the Americans because they're going to have a series of conversations with someone who really doesn't speak for the South Korean public.
HU: Among the Korean public there is distrust of the new Trump administration, mainly because Trump's statements have been so inconsistent. He has said both that he'd be willing to have a burger with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and that the U.S.-South Korean alliance is stronger than ever. Protestor Oh Mi-Jeong takes the mic to say his statements don't add up.
OH: (Over loudspeaker, speaking Korean)
HU: "Trump was unexpectedly elected as the president," she says, "but his eccentric actions are just unpredictable." Which leads to another major question for the trip, says John Delury.
DELURY: Does Secretary Mattis actually speak for President Trump? Who's really calling the shots on American foreign policy? Those are also huge questions that affect their fate.
HU: And given the nuclear weapons just across the border, it matters for the region and the world.
DELURY: The Korean Peninsula's arguably the security fault line for Asia. You need to be very careful in your approach.
HU: Both key U.S. allies, Korea and Japan, are looking for some clarity in what that approach will look like under Trump. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.
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