WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in the United States on Thursday to hold his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump since the latter’s inauguration last month.
Abe will seek to discuss with Trump ways to bolster bilateral trade and investment for the economic benefit of the wider Asia-Pacific region in their talks in Washington on Friday, followed by a joint press conference, according to Japanese authorities.
They are then scheduled to fly to Palm Beach, Florida, where the president has a sprawling vacation estate. Trump has said he and Abe will play a round of golf in Palm Beach.
“I hope this summit meeting will be a message (to the world) that the Japan-U.S. alliance will be stronger and tougher,” Abe told reporters before boarding a government plane at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
A senior U.S. official said Thursday that Trump is expected to underscore the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan in the event that China attempts to seize the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands.
While affirming a robust Japan-U.S. security alliance, Trump is also likely to raise the issues of trade in automobiles and exchange rates — areas in which he has expressed frustration with Japan — during Friday’s meeting, the official told reporters.
Referring to the Senkaku issue, the official said, “I would expect, certainly, for you to hear on that subject and in concrete terms that President Trump is committed to that treaty.”
Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty “does apply to the Senkakus,” a group of uninhabited East China Sea islets claimed by China and Taiwan, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, became the first U.S. president to make such a commitment in public in April 2014.
“We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japan’s administration of the islands,” the official said, taking aim at China’s repeated intrusion into Japanese territorial waters around the islands.
However, the official said Abe and Trump are unlikely to discuss the issue of sovereignty over the islets, known as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan. Beijing claims it has “undisputable sovereignty” over them.
Referring to Washington’s sizable trade deficit with Tokyo, the official did not rule out the possibility that Trump will refer to what he regards as currency devaluation by Japan for unfair trade advantage, an allegation Japan denies.
As for auto trade, the official said, “It’s of high interest” to Trump and it will be “an important topic of conversation” between the leaders of the world’s biggest and third-largest economies.
Trump has called Japan’s automobile trade practices “not fair,” saying, “They (Japan) do things to us that make it impossible to sell cars in Japan.”
Japanese officials, however, said there are no tariffs on foreign car imports into Japan and that there are no discriminatory nontariff barriers, either. They also said Japanese automakers have invested in the United States and created many jobs there.
The U.S. administration official suggested Trump may propose to Abe a bilateral free trade agreement in place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade agreement he abandoned last month.
Trump has made clear that in a bilateral agreement “you can negotiate terms that are more favorable to the United States than you can in a multilateral agreement,” the official said.
After the Oval Office talks, the two leaders are scheduled to travel to Palm Beach in Florida, home to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago vacation estate, and play golf together on Saturday.
Abe is the second head of government to visit Trump since the Republican businessman-turned-president took office on Jan. 20. British Prime Minister Theresa May met Trump at the White House on Jan. 27.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as finance minister, are accompanying Abe to Washington.
Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who talked by phone earlier this week, will hold their first face-to-face talks on Friday, the Foreign Ministry said.
Abe and Trump held an unofficial meeting in New York last November, shortly after Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.