Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed on Sunday night to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. security alliance, in their first phone call since the new Japanese leader took office.
Suga, elected by the Diet as Japan’s first new leader in nearly eight years on Wednesday, told reporters after talks with Trump that he told the U.S. leader the alliance is the “cornerstone of peace and stability in the region.”
Trump was quoted by Suga as saying the alliance should be strengthened even further and that Suga is welcome to call him “24 hours a day.”
The two also discussed the situation surrounding North Korea and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the 25-minute conversation.
Suga asked Trump for continued U.S. support in pushing for the return of Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a Japanese government official.
The leaders agreed the two allies will cooperate on the development and distribution of a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19, the official said.
They also discussed the importance of pursuing their shared vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and agreed to work together to strengthen the global economy, according to the White House.
Earlier in the day, Suga had a phone conversation with Australian leader Scott Morrison, the first head of government he spoke to since his inauguration.
After talking with Trump, Suga said he is willing to hold telephone talks with other world leaders, without touching on details.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister whose second stint in power began in late 2012, is known to have formed one of the closest relationships with Trump among world leaders
The two played golf together on multiple occasions and the U.S. president invited Abe to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida twice, in 2017 and 2018.
Suga, Abe’s right-hand man as chief Cabinet secretary during that time, is seen as a savvy politician on the domestic front but considered inexperienced in diplomatic affairs.
“Congratulations Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. You have a great life story! I know you will do a tremendous job for Japan and for the world. Look forward to talking soon!” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Among the challenges Suga is facing include Trump’s claim that Japan is not contributing enough to the alliance, under which U.S. troops are obligated to protect the country from armed attack.
Following the November presidential election, Japan is expected to face mounting pressure to share more of the cost of maintaining U.S. military bases across the country.