Amid renewed concern among America’s allies about the U.S. president’s commitment to them, Donald Trump is seeking to offer reassuring words after arriving in Japan for the Group of 20 leaders’ summit.
During his first meeting in Osaka -- a working dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- Trump was asked by a reporter about a perception that an “America alone” approach is adversely affecting some of Washington’s traditional closest allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We work with our allies. We take care of our allies,” Trump responded while noting he had “inherited massive trade deficits with our allies. And we even help our allies militarily.”
During the dinner Trump “stressed his commitment to maximizing the economic partnership with Australia through fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial trade and investment,” according to White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley.
G-20 host Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, is hoping for reassuring words to be uttered publicly by Trump when they meet Friday morning in Osaka.
In recent days, the president has questioned the fairness of the U.S.-Japan defense alliance.
“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. We will go in and protect them with our lives and with our treasure,” Trump said during a telephone interview with Fox Business News on Wednesday. “We will fight at all costs …but if we are attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch on a Sony television.”
US - Japan defense treaty
This followed a Bloomberg report that Trump has been musing to confidantes that he wants to withdraw from the “unfair” U.S.-Japan defense treaty, the backbone of the two former enemies’ post-World War II alliance.
Japan’s government welcomes the State Department and White House reassurances denying the report, Kevin Maher, former director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, tells VOA. “Nevertheless, privately some worry that he may not understand that the U.S. military presence in Asia, especially in Japan, ultimately is in the best interests of the United States, in that it maintains peace, stability and prosperity, which is good for the American people,”
Trump in the Fox Business News interview also criticized the European Union, accusing its anti-trust commissioner of hating America. And on his way to the leaders’ summit, the president tweeted that retaliatory tariffs by India –- whose prime minister, Narendra Modi, he meets Thursday – are unacceptable and “must be withdrawn.”
Trade is Trump’s priority at the summit over all other geo-strategic concerns, according to top U.S. officials traveling with the president.
On the sidelines of the main event, Trump is also scheduled to hold a number of bilateral meetings, including with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saturday talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The U.S.-China talks are likely to touch on trade after a breakdown in negotiations and an escalation of tariffs by both sides.
U.S. officials say there is no fixed agenda for Trump's meeting Putin, but acknowledge the two leaders would almost certainly discuss issues involving Ukraine, the Middle East and Venezuela.
Trump is also expected to use the G-20 sessions to convey that his administration intends to continue applying economic pressure on Iran, seeking to deny the country its important oil revenue and bring about fresh negotiations on its nuclear program.
After the summit, Trump flies to Seoul to discuss with South Korean President Moon Jae-in ways to ease tensions with North Korea. It is speculated that the U.S. president will make a visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas but U.S. officials have ruled out that while Trump is on the peninsula he will also meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.