By AKIKO NISHIMAE and ISABEL REYNOLDS | Bloomberg | Published: November 18, 2016
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Donald Trump was a trustworthy leader in comments after his first meeting with the U.S. president-elect, whose statements on trade and security have sparked concern in Japan.
Abe told reporters in New York on Thursday night that he had frank discussions in a "warm atmosphere" at Trump Tower. He said he explained his views on a range of issues, but declined to comment on the substance of the talks in a meeting that lasted more than an hour. Abe gave Trump a golf club, and received a golf shirt from the real-estate mogul.
"He made time for me, even though he is busy with personnel matters," Abe said after the meeting. "I am convinced that President-elect Trump is a leader we can trust." The pair agreed to meet again for broader and deeper talks when their schedules allow, he said.
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to drop a Pacific trade deal and accused Japan of manipulating its currency. The president-elect has also stirred unease in Tokyo by threatening to pull U.S. troops out of the country unless it pays more for their upkeep, and has suggested Japan might have to develop its own nuclear weapons.
"It's good that Abe saw Trump," said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University Japan campus in Tokyo. "Trump has little foreign policy knowledge and it's worth trying to educate him. The approach may fail but it's worth a try."
The U.S. is Japan's second-largest trading partner behind China, with two-way commerce reaching almost $200 billion last year. Japanese businesses provide upward of 800,000 jobs in America.
Japan, whose own military is restricted by a pacifist constitution drafted by the U.S. after World War II, relies heavily on America's troops and nuclear weapons for deterrence against growing threats from North Korea and an increasingly powerful China. About 50,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan.
Trump's daughter Ivanka -- touted by some Japanese tabloids as a potential ambassador to Tokyo -- was at her father's residence to greet Abe. Also present was retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a key military surrogate throughout his campaign, whom Trump is said to have offered the job of national security adviser.
On a visit to Tokyo last month, Flynn said Japan and the U.S. should discuss the cost-sharing arrangement for American troops in Japan. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said last week that the country makes sufficient contributions to the upkeep of U.S. forces in Japan.
Abe had sought to turn on the charm ahead of the appointment, referring to Trump's "extraordinary talents" in a congratulatory message, and telling reporters as he left Tokyo that it was a "tremendous honor" to be holding talks with Trump ahead of other world leaders.