Bloomberg / Tokyo
US President Donald Trump’s dinner with Japanese business leaders included one who had unusually sharp words for him just last week.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp, was among Japan’s top executives who met Trump soon after he arrived in Japan for a four-day visit. Earlier this month, he had rebuked Trump’s declaration that imported cars and components threaten US national security, saying it sent a message to Toyota that its US investments aren’t welcomed.
Trump looked for Toyoda around the room in pre-dinner remarks at the US ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, asking “where’s Toyota?”
“There’s nothing like the boss,” he said after people pointed out Toyoda in the crowd. “I thought that was you.”
Toyoda is also chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Other automaker chiefs invited to the dinner included those from Nissan Motor Co, Honda Motor Co, Mazda Motor Corp and Subaru Corp. The unusually sharp-worded comments from Toyoda reflected rising concern on the part of Japan’s all-important auto sector.
Trump is the first foreign leader to be invited to Japan for a state visit since Emperor Naruhito took the throne on May 1. It’s an effort by the Japanese to stay in Trump’s good graces amid ongoing trade talks in which he’s threatened to levy auto tariffs against Japan and the European Union, claiming that the current levels of imports pose a national security threat. Trump last week delayed the potential tariffs for up to six months as negotiations continued.
“As you know, the United States and Japan are hard at work negotiating a bilateral trade agreement which will benefit both of our countries,” Trump said. “I would say that Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years. But that’s OK. Maybe that’s why you like us so much.”
But it’s going to be “a little bit more fair, I think we’ll do that,” Trump said. “We hope to have several further announcements soon and some very big ones over the next few months.”
Trump called the dinner attendees “the greatest businessmen and women in the world,” and “incredible investors in our country.”
A friendlier face in the crowd was SoftBank Group Corp’s Masayoshi Son. Trump has in the past touted SoftBank’s investments in the US, and Son met with Trump soon after the 2016 election and promised to create 50,000 jobs in the US through a $50bn investment in startups and new companies. Trump last visited Japan in November 2017 at the start of a five-country, 13-day trip across Asia.
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