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US-Japan Leaders' Diplomacy Will Swing to Golf


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, answers questions from the media after meeting with then U.S. President-elect Donald Trump during his stopover in New York, Nov. 17, 2016. Abe was en route to an APEC meeting in Lima, Peru.

An Oval Office meeting, a White House lunch and a golf outing in Florida are intended to reassure Japan's leader the Trump administration stands with its ally “shoulder to shoulder 100 percent,” a senior U.S. administration official said Thursday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived Thursday evening in Washington, a day before he becomes the second foreign leader to officially meet with President Donald Trump.

Abe, eager to get off on a good footing with then president-elect Trump, flew to New York City to meet him in November, shortly after the businessman's surprise election victory.

Due to deeply intertwined military and trade ties, Japan has no choice but to pursue a good rapport with whomever is president of the United States, according to senior government officials in Tokyo.

But the Japanese have been deeply unsettled by Trump's previous rhetoric and its impact on East Asia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shake hands at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Feb. 3, 2017.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shake hands at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Feb. 3, 2017.

Mattis visits Japan

During the campaign, the Republican candidate called for America's allies to pay more of the share for hosting U.S. bases, and commented that perhaps it would not be so bad for Japan to have its own nuclear deterrent.

A visit to Japan by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week was meant to drive home the message that the United States, which protects the island nation with its nuclear arsenal and the 54,000 troops stationed there, will still have Tokyo's back.

“You're going to hear similar messages from the president,” a senior administration official said in response to a VOA News question during a telephone background briefing for reporters. And the president's words and actions, he added, “will go a long way to dispelling any doubts that may still remain” in the region about the U.S. commitment to its defense alliances with Japan and South Korea.

The Trump-Abe meeting Friday will cover a wide range of other issues, especially trade.

Japan to announce investment package

Abe is being accompanied by what Japanese officials tell VOA is a delegation unprecedented in size and scope.

Trump, who as president has relished a series of high-profile job creation announcements alongside corporate leaders, is expected to stand next to Abe at a news conference Friday for a similar announcement.

Abe is set to reveal a $150 billion five-part investment package in U.S. infrastructure touted to eventually create 700,000 jobs.

This comes after the Japanese viewed the Trump administration's abandonment of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership as a severe setback for international trade growth.

Abe expended significant political capital, especially with the influential agricultural sector, to bring his country into the landmark trade pact.

Trump “believes that bilateral agreements are really the way to go for the United States,” the senior U.S. official said, explaining the president believes he can find terms more favorable for the United States in such an agreement rather than in a multilateral agreement where “you're held to the standard of the weakest link.”

President Donald Trump listens to the Palm Beach Central High School Band as they play at his arrival at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Feb. 5, 2017. Trump will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his club on Saturday.
President Donald Trump listens to the Palm Beach Central High School Band as they play at his arrival at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Feb. 5, 2017. Trump will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his club on Saturday.

Talks move to golf course

The United States and Japan together represent about 30 percent of global economic output.

Pursuit of a possible new, direct trade compact between the two countries is also expected to be discussed when the two leaders golf together Saturday at the president's resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The invitation, the first offered a foreign leader to a property owned by the Trump family, has raised questions about a possible conflict of interest.

“The visit to Mar-a-Lago is a personal gift,” from the president to the prime minister, the senior administration official told reporters.

A White House spokesperson emphasized that Abe and his delegation will not actually stay at the historic estate purchased by Trump in 1985.

After becoming president, Trump signed documents to step aside from leadership roles in his companies, turning over control to his sons. But questions persist about the interpretation of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a president benefiting from foreign leaders.

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