Ja­pan’s charm cam­paign ready to roll: Golf, sumo await Trump

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jill Colvin and Dar­lene Su­perville As­so­ci­ated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) » Un­der the threat of po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing U.S. tar­iffs on au­tos, Ja­pan is ready to roll out the new­est phase of its charm of­fen­sive tar­get­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as it wel­comes him on a state visit tai­lor-made to his whims and ego .

'Of­fer­ing high hon­ors, golf and the chance to present a “Trump Cup” at a sumo wrestling cham­pi­onship, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, ar­guably Trump’s closest friend on the world stage, will con­tinue a years-long cam­paign that so far ap­pears to have spared Ja­pan from far more de­bil­i­tat­ing U.S. ac­tions.

The stakes are high. U. S. tar­iffs could crip­ple Ja­pan’s auto in­dus­try, while North Korea re­mains a desta­bi­liz­ing threat in the re­gion. But this trip, the first of two Trump is ex­pected to make to Ja­pan in the next six weeks, is more of so­cial call meant to high­light the alliance be­tween the coun­tries and the friend­ship be­tween their lead­ers.

“In the world of Don­ald Trump, ter­ri­ble things can hap­pen if you’re an ally, but no ma­jor blows have landed on Ja­pan,” said Michael Green, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for Asia and Ja­pan chair at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and

In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Trump, who de­parted Washington for Tokyo on Fri­day, has the honor of be­ing the first head of state in­vited to meet Em­peror Naruhito since he as­sumed power May 1 after his fa­ther stepped down, the first ab­di­ca­tion in about two centuries. Naruhito will wel­come Trump to the Im­pe­rial Palace on Mon­day for a meet­ing and ban­quet in his honor.

“With all the coun­tries of the world, I’m the guest of honor at the big­gest event that they’ve had in over 200 years,” Trump said Thurs­day

Abe will host Trump on Sun­day for a round of golf and take the pres­i­dent to a sumo wrestling match, a sport Trump said he finds “fas­ci­nat­ing.” Trump is ea­ger to present the win­ner with a U.S.-made tro­phy.

It’s all part of a kind­ness cam­paign aimed at en­cour­ag­ing Trump to al­le­vi­ate trade pres­sures, said Riley Wal­ters, a pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Asian Stud­ies Cen­ter, who said the per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump and Abe is prob­a­bly the best of any two world lead­ers.

Abe made a strate­gic de­ci­sion be­fore Trump was elected to fo­cus on his re­la­tion­ship with the U. S. The courtship be­gan when Abe rushed to New York two weeks after the Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion to meet the pres­i­dent- elect at Trump Tower. Last month, Abe and his wife, Akie, cel­e­brated first lady Me­la­nia Trump’s birth­day over a cou­ples’ din­ner at the White House.

Trump plans to re­turn to Ja­pan for a sum­mit of lead­ing rich and de­vel­op­ing na­tions in Osaka in late June.

Be­hind the smiles and per­sonal friend­ship, how­ever, lurks deep un­easi­ness over Trump’s threat to im­pose tar­iffs on Ja­panese au­tos and auto parts on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds, a move that would be far more dev­as­tat­ing to the Ja­panese econ­omy than ear­lier tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum.

Trump re­cently agreed to a six-month de­lay, enough time to carry Abe past July’s Ja­panese par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

“On the sur­face, it’s all go­ing to be a dis­play of warmth, friend­ship, hospi­tal­ity,” said Mireya So­lis, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings Cen­ter for East Asia Pol­icy Stud­ies. But, she said, “there’s an undercurre­nt of awk­ward­ness and con­cern about what the fu­ture might hold. ... We’re com­ing to a de­ci­sive mo­ment. This is, I think, the mo­ment of truth.”

Also at is­sue is the lin­ger­ing threat of North Korea, which has re­sumed mis­sile test­ing and re­cently fired a se­ries of short-range pro­jec­tiles that U. S. of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Trump, have tried to down­play de­spite an agree­ment by North Korea to hold off on fur­ther test­ing.

“The mora­to­rium was fo­cused, very fo­cused, on in­tercon­ti­nen­tal mis­sile sys­tems, the ones that threaten the United States,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said in a re­cent tele­vi­sion in­ter­view. That raised alarm bells in Ja­pan, where short-range mis­siles pose a se­ri­ous threat.

“That is not an ac­cept­able Amer­i­can po­si­tion for Ja­pan,” said Green.

Ja­pan, which re­lies on the U.S. for its de­fense, has also been largely cut out of ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea, even as Kim Jong Un has met with other lead­ers in the re­gion, in­clud­ing China’s Xi Jin­ping. That leaves Abe to rely on the U. S. as an in­ter­me­di­ary, said Sheila Smith, an ex­pert on Ja­panese pol­i­tics and for­eign pol­icy at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

“Abe has to rely on Trump to ad­vo­cate,” she said. Abe re­cently of­fered to meet Kim without pre­con­di­tions in an ef­fort to re­store diplo­matic ties.

With Trump’s re­la­tions with the lead­ers of the U.K., Ger­many, Canada and other al­lies strained, Abe has worked more than any other leader to try to keep Trump en­gaged with in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, Green said, adding that it is crit­i­cal for Ja­pan’s sur­vival.

And while lead­ers across Europe and else­where might take heat for cozy­ing up to Trump, an­a­lysts say Ja­panese vot­ers see Trump more as a cu­rios­ity and un­der­stand the prag­matic im­por­tance of good re­la­tions, which they say has paid off for Abe.

In­deed, while Trump has re­jected Abe’s in­vi­ta­tions to re-join a sweep­ing trans-Pa­cific trade deal and keeps the threat of tar­iffs in place, Trump walked away from his last meet­ing with Kim without a deal, which some had feared would in­clude a dec­la­ra­tion to end the Korean war and a vow to pull U.S. troops from the penin­sula.

“I would ar­gue that Abe has been so good at main­tain­ing the re­la­tion­ship that maybe things could be worse,”. Wal­ters said.

SU­SAN WALSH - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, right, speaks April 26while meet­ing with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, left, in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Washington. Trump’s Ja­pan visit start­ing on Satur­day is to fo­cus on per­sonal ties with Abe rather than sub­stan­tive re­sults on trade, se­cu­rity or North Korea.

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