NEWS ニュース

Japan – US relations in 2019


Japan Watch Project Analyst By Reni Juwitasari


On Saturday, 25 May, 2019 President Trump, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, arrived in Tokyo for his four-days state visit in Japan to meet the new Japanese Emperor Naruhito. It was indicated earlier this month that he would be the first foreign leader to visit the new Emperor for a “congratulatory visit”. The President also met Prime Minister Abe, unofficially, for a round of golf, a sumo tournament, and a private dinner a day after he arrived in Tokyo. Subsequently, he was invited to meet the Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako in the Imperial Palace on Monday morning and met Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress again in the evening for a state banquet. On the same day, President Trump and Prime Minister Abe gathered at the Akasaka Palace to join press conference and discuss a crucial issue of Japan – U.S. trade dispute, North Korea missile launch, and diplomatic tension in Iran. Before leaving for the United States, President Trump visited Japanese Warship in the J.S. Kaga at Yokosuka. Japan considered this visit as a serious diplomatic event for the two leaders. It was reported that Prime Minister Abe enjoyed a close personal relationship with the United States since President Trump has been in his position in January 2017. Apparently, they have had more than 40 times of the conversations in phone and in person.

For President Trump, this was his second state visit to Japan after his previous visit to Japan on 6 November, 2017, welcomed by the Emperor Emeritus Akihito. This visit was expected to bring more understanding and cooperation between two countries in both terms of economic and political relations. On his arrival at Haneda International Airport, President Trump and his First Lady Melania Trump were greeted by Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr, Taro Kono and his wife, Mrs. Kaori Kono, and the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Bill Haggerty. They directly went to the Ambassador’s official residence for a meeting with a group of Japanese high profile business executives, such as those from prominent Japanese automobile brands - Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and others - Rakuten and Softbank. In the meeting, President Trump uttered his admiration on a closer, stronger and more powerful economic relationship ever between the U.S. and Japan. He added his hope for both countries to reach a new trade pact by negotiating a bilateral trade agreement to be more favorable to American business. His purpose was to remove trade imbalance as the U.S. had a “large trade deficit” of $ 67.6 billion in goods with Japan in 2018. He persisted to reduce the barriers inhibiting sale of American exports, suggested Japan to purchase more of the United States’ defense product, and ensured fairness in their relationship. Moreover, he also encouraged Japanese business executives to invest in the U.S.

The meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe was conducted the day after the business meeting. The two leaders began their meeting with a steamy morning playing round golf at Mobara Country Club along with Japanese professional golfer Isao Aoki on Sunday. During their lunch, following a round golf, Prime Minister Abe purportedly nominated President Trump for the Nobel peace prize, honoring his work to open up a dialogue with North Korea, while, hosting sets of lunch with cheeseburgers made by U.S. beef, remarking that Japan has reopened the U.S. beef imports since early May, after a mad cow disease outbreak in the early 2000s. Additionally, they watched a Sumo wrestling match finale as President Trump presented the winner with the “President’s Cup” trophy, weight in about 32 kilograms and 137 centimeters tall at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the sumo hall in Tokyo in the late evening. Finally, they had private dinner at the Inakaya Restaurant and discussed briefly about U.S. and Japan alliance relationship, mainly about trade and military issues that are concerned by both countries.

President Trump and First Lady eventually met the Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace on Monday morning. It was reported that the meeting, although was short, but glorious. The President and First Lady were greeted with Japanese honor guard and crowds waving U.S. and Japanese flags as part of a formal welcoming ceremony, continuously kicked off the formal visit with handshakes and greetings with both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako. They reportedly met for about 15 minutes with exchanged gifts, a 1938 viola for the Emperor and a custom-made White House desk set including a pen made by a live red oak at Harvard University for the Empress. In return, the Emperor and Empress presented a traditional pottery and porcelain bowl and an ornamental lacquer box. The two sides also swapped signed and framed photos of each other and they would participate at a state banquet in the evening.

Later in the day, the President officially met Prime Minister Abe at the Akasaka Palace, the Japanese state guest house, to join press conference and ended up with lunch together. During the meeting, they talked over the issues regarding trade and security. Prime Minister Abe, amid growing U.S. – Japan trade tensions, was desperate to avoid a repeat of the trade friction between China and the U.S. which would also very much affect to Japan. Reciprocally, the U.S. was seeking greater access into the Japanese market for opening its doors to more U.S. agricultural products and removing the auto import tariffs since U.S. faced trade deficit in 2018 which was recognized as “losing” and pulled the U.S. out of the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPPP) trade agreement two years ago. The U.S. and Japan had established the first round of trade negotiation on 15 April. Moreover, the President wanted to renegotiate a trade treaty with Japan, in accordance with Article II of the U.S.-Japan security treaty committing the parties “to eliminate conflict in their international policies” and “encourage economic collaboration”, due to establishment of non-exempted tariff of 25 percent on imports of steel and 10 percent on imports of aluminum for Japan, along with China, Russia and India. Yet, the trade deal did not occur during this visit and would not be finalized until after Japan’s election in July.  

Correspondingly, the two leaders examined the security cooperation to strengthen bilateral military collaboration because of North Korean short-range missile tests that have rattled to Japan. Japan has long voiced concern about short-range missiles because of the threats that pose to its security following the President of North Korea’s decision to lift the pause in ballistic missile launches beginning in the late 2017. President Trump ever held two summits with President Kim to produce concrete pledge for denuclearization in the Korean peninsula, yet met disagreement, but he still wishes keeping the Pyongyang’s promise. Japan is deeply dependent on the U.S. for security and encourages Washington to maintain international agreements and keep pressure on North Korea. Therefore, President Trump would support Japan’s efforts to build more offensive weapons, including destroyer-turned aircraft. The President might also agree to sale of F-35Bs to Japan and purpose the prospects for a coming third US- North Korea Summit.

Following their talks, Prime Minister Abe also expressed his willing to go to Iran and hold talks with President Hasan Rouhani to mediate the mounting tension between U.S. – Iran crisis on Iran’s nuclear program that was rejected by the President Trump administration due to Iran’s recent attacks,. This tension has caused U.S. to declare an emergency over Iran by sending 1,500 troops to Middle East and selling more arms to Saudi Arabia, such as B-52 bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region. Prime Minister Abe reportedly considered a trip to Iran by next month. Lastly, the President Trump had the audience meeting with the Japanese family members who were abducted by North Korean spies in the 1960s and 1970s.

On his final day in Japan, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump went aboard a Japanese destroyer to visit Japanese troops and then made a visit to the USS Wasp docked at the mouth of Tokyo Bay where he was accompanied by Prime Minister Abe before heading to the U.S. Aboard the USS Wasp. There, President Trump gave a Memorial Day speech to hundreds of members of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet that was participated more than 800 members of the U.S. military, where President Trump wished a “happy Memorial Day”. President Trump and First Lady flew back to the United States at 1.05 p.m.

For this visit, although President Trump headed home without a new trade deal, he  brought a new hope for the U.S. and Japan diplomatic relationship in the future.


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Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno - Pool/Getty Images