Japan’s charm campaign ready to roll: Golf, sumo await Trump
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
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.
President Donald Trump, right, speaks April 26 while 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.