National / Politics

On the links, Abe to seek closer ties with Trump

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

During his U.S. visit that kicks off this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to play a round of golf with President Donald Trump, a match-up he hopes will build closer personal ties.

Abe’s Washington tour this time around, scheduled for Feb. 9-13, is rather unusual, as three key ministers — Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and trade minister Hiroshige Seko — are accompanying the prime minister and will possibly meet up with their U.S. counterparts.

The plan underlines Abe’s determination to build a closer relationship with the Trump administration despite repeated bashing of Japan as an unfair trade partner by the U.S. president and heated criticism of by other world leaders over the U.S. immigration crackdown.

The primary mission of Abe’s trip is to “show anew to the world that the Japan-U.S. alliance is unshakable” in dealing with security challenges, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

Meeting Trump in Florida “will be a very meaningful opportunity for the two leaders to build up a personal relationship,” Suga said.

Meanwhile, Trump confirmed to Westwood One Sports radio on Sunday that he will play a round of golf with Abe in Palm Beach, Florida.

“We’re going to have a round of golf, which is a great thing,” Trump said in the phone interview, according to a White House transcript.

“If we get along with Russia and other countries — I mean, I want to get along with all countries — but if we got along with Russia, if we got along with China, if we got along with Japan … that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Asked if he would make a bet on the game and if Abe is a good golfer, Trump said “I don’t know. I think — I know he loves the game, and we’re going to have a lot of fun. It won’t matter. I’ll just make sure he’s my partner.”

During the election campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized Japan for unfair trade practice involving auto imports and exports. He also suggested the U.S.-Japan security arrangement was one-sided. And just recently, Trump accused Tokyo of using monetary policy to devalue its currency to benefit Japanese exporters.

Still, Abe was one of the first world leaders to attempt to form personal relationship with Trump, becoming on Nov. 17 the first foreign leader to meet with then-U.S. president-elect in New York. Since that meeting, as far as security issues are concerned, Trump’s team has stopped criticizing Tokyo.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Tokyo and met Abe last week, reaffirming Washington’s commitment to the Japan-U.S. military alliance.

He even praised Japan as “a model” among U.S. allies in sharing costs for U.S. forces stationed overseas.

According to media reports in Japan, Abe is expected to propose a package that create jobs in the United States through various investment projects when he meets Trump on Feb. 10.

Still, many observers fear the Trump administration will take a tough stances on trade issues in a bid to appeal to domestic voters.

Asked if Abe and Trump will discuss economic issues, Suga would only say the two countries have yet to decide the details on what will be discussed.

“We can build a win-win relationship for both. I believe constructive discussion will be held” by Abe and Trump, Suga said, without elaborating further.