President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened two days of talks yesterday, looking to cement a decades-old alliance between Japan and the United States that has been under strain because of the Republican’s positions on trade and security.
The two leaders sat down for talks in the Oval Office, shaking hands and smiling for photographers.
Abe set a hopeful tone, telling a US Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he wanted to build a relationship of trust with the new US leader.
“I would like to clearly demonstrate the unshakable Japan-US alliance to the world,” the prime minister said ahead of White House meetings.
Still, an air of uncertainty was hanging over their summit after a presidential campaign in which Trump slammed the US treaty obligation to defend Japan and accused the Japanese of stealing American jobs.
After their conversations, Trump and Abe are to stage a joint news conference, have lunch and then fly to Palm Beach, Florida, in the afternoon for a weekend stay at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
The two will play golf at one or two of Trump’s golf courses in the area.
It will be the most time Trump will have spent with a foreign leader since taking power last month and his second face-to-face meeting with a key ally after talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May two weeks ago.
Trump hosted Abe at Trump Tower last year in his first talks with a foreign leader after his surprise win in the November presidential election.
“I think the president just really enjoys his company and wants to not only get to know him better but to have a greater bilateral relationship,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. “He understands their importance in the region. He values his friendship and looks forward to deepening the relationship.”
The US side took steps to get the two leaders off to a positive start by saying that Trump would oppose any unilateral declarations that would undermine Japan’s administration of disputed islands in the East China Sea.
There have been long-standing tensions between China and Japan over waters in the East China Sea, including islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone call on Thursday night.
Japanese spokesman Norio Maruyama called it a positive development.
“It’s good and positive in terms of peace and security of the region and the international community,” he told reporters.
A senior US administration official said Trump was unlikely to raise with Abe his frequent charge that Japan manipulates currency markets to lower its currency.
Trump has hurled the same accusation at China.
“I can tell you that’s not something that’s at the top of the list, but whether it comes up naturally in conversation, we’ll see over the course of that meeting,” said the official.
Abe hopes Japanese promises to help create US jobs and bolster Japan’s military will persuade Trump to turn down the heat on economic matters and stand by the alliance.
To avoid questions about whether Japan is paying Trump for Abe to stay at the beachfront Mar-a-Lago retreat, the White House declared that the entire visit there, including golf, is the official gift for Abe from Trump.
It will be Trump’s first use of Mar-a-Lago for diplomacy.
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