Following Trump's first official meeting with a foreign leader on Thursday night (one which took place in Trump's apartment at the Trump Tower), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Trump was a trustworthy leader in comments after his first meeting with the U.S. President-elect, whose statements on trade and security have sparked concern in Japan. Abe told reporters that he had frank discussions in a “warm atmosphere” at Trump Tower, and said he explained his views on a range of issues, but declined to comment on the substance of the talks in a meeting that lasted more than an hour.
“He made time for me, even though he is busy with personnel matters,” Abe said after the meeting. “I am convinced that President-elect Trump is a leader we can trust.” The pair agreed to meet again for broader and deeper talks when their schedules allow, he said.
It was not always so amicable: while campaigning, Trump vowed to drop a Pacific trade deal which shifts the balance of trade power in the Pacific to China, and accused Japan of manipulating its currency. Trump also threatened to pull U.S. troops out of the country unless it pays more for their upkeep, and has suggested Japan might have to develop its own nuclear weapons.
Quoted by Bloomberg, a condescending Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University Japan campus in Tokyo said that "it’s good that Abe saw Trump. Trump has little foreign policy knowledge and it’s worth trying to educate him. The approach may fail but it’s worth a try."
As Bloomberg notes, Japan is America's second-largest trading partner behind China, with two-way commerce reaching almost $200 billion last year. Japanese businesses provide upward of 800,000 jobs in America. Relations are also prominent in the military realm where Japan, whose own military is restricted by a pacifist constitution drafted by the U.S. after World War II, relies heavily on America’s troops and nuclear weapons for deterrence against growing threats from North Korea and an increasingly powerful China. About 50,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka, rumored to be groomed as a potential ambassador to Tokyo, was at her father’s residence to greet Abe.
Also present was retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a key military surrogate throughout his campaign, whom Trump offered the job of national security adviser. According to Bloomberg, on a visit to Tokyo last month Flynn said Japan and the U.S. should discuss the cost-sharing arrangement for American troops in Japan. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said last week that the country makes sufficient contributions to the upkeep of U.S. forces in Japan.
Meanwhile, to cement the goodwill between Japan and the new administration, Abe presented the real estate mogul with a golf club (Japanese media said it was a driver). Trump gave Abe a golf shirt in return. The gift is symbolic: in 1957, then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather and political role model, played a round of golf with President Dwight D. Eisenhower on a course in Maryland outside of the U.S. capital. News reports described the game as a “triumph for diplomacy.”
Nobusuke Kishi and Dwight D. Eisenhower play golf in 1957
The pair are known to be avid golfers. Abe spends his summers playing at courses close to his vacation home near Tokyo. Trump is affiliated with 17 golf properties worldwide, with the golf division of Trump Organization Inc. owning and managing most of the courses. It’s not the first time Abe has used golf diplomacy. On a trip to Vietnam in 2006, during his first spell as prime minister, Abe gave then President George W. Bush a photograph of their grandfathers playing in Maryland. He also gave President Barack Obama a putter made by a Japanese manufacturer.