Donald Trump's defence secretary James Mattis will visit Asia next week
James Mattis, a retired Marine general, was sworn into the Pentagon's top job shortly after President Trump's inauguration on Friday and a quick departure to Asia could be seen as a nod to the importance the new U.S. administration places on security ties.
The trip would closely follow Trump's withdrawal from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, fulfilling a campaign pledge but disappointing many key US allies in Asia.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for example, had touted TPP in part as a counter-weight to a rising China.
No further details were immediately available about Mattis' proposed itinerary.
Still, Secretary Mattis, in his confirmation hearing this month, described "the Pacific theatre" as a priority and analysts expect new US military spending under President Trump's administration would strengthen America's military presence in Asia over time.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had touted TPP in part as a counter-weight to a rising China
Topping US concerns in the region are North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs and China's military moves in the South China Sea.
Tension with Beijing escalated this week when President Trump's White House vowed to defend "international territories" in the strategic waterway. China responded by saying it had "irrefutable" sovereignty over disputed islands there.
Mattis, a retired Marine general, was sworn into the Pentagon's top job
Secretary Mattis, in his Senate testimony, also voiced concern about North Korea, describing Pyongyang's activities as a "serious threat" that required US attention.
There are about 28,500 US troops based in South Korea helping to defend the country against North Korea, which has technically remained in a state of war with the South since the 1950-53 Korean conflict.
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The best photos from Donald Trump's historic inauguration
Mon, January 23, 2017
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will mark the commencement of the four-year term of Donald Trump as President and Mike Pence as Vice President. A public ceremony will be held on Friday, January 20, 2017.
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President Donald Trump waves as he walks with first lady Melania Trump and son Barron during the inauguration parade.
South Korea and the United States say the upcoming deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system will better help to protect Seoul against North Korea's nuclear and ballistic capabilities.
But China says THAAD's powerful radar could penetrate its own territory, prompting calls from some South Korean opposition leaders to delay or cancel its deployment.