By Ko Hirano
WASHINGTON, Kyodo - U.S. President Donald Trump will pay a four-day state visit to Japan starting Saturday, a high-profile event that will make him the first foreign leader to meet with the nation’s new Emperor Naruhito, underscoring the strength of the bilateral alliance.
While celebrating Japan’s new imperial era of Reiwa, or beautiful harmony, Trump may push Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a meeting Monday to swiftly reach a bilateral trade agreement that would put America first as he steps up his 2020 re-election bid.
Trump has repeatedly gone after China, Japan and other surplus-generating countries, accusing them of taking advantage of the United States on trade, and has pledged to address the trade imbalances with them.
While maintaining hefty levies on steel and aluminum imports from Japan and other U.S. trading partners, the Trump administration has also threatened Tokyo and other major car exporters with a potential 25 percent automobile tariff in a bid to pressure them into making concessions.
The United States has demanded that Japan cut tariffs on American farm products as soon as possible, while Tokyo has urged Washington to remove duties on industrial goods, including a 2.5 percent tariff on Japanese cars. Japan levies no taxes on imported vehicles.
American farmers and ranchers are pressing the administration to level the playing field because they have started losing market share in Japan following the recent enforcement of two free trade agreements.
They are a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership -- an 11-member FTA including Japan and farming nations such as Australia and Canada -- and an FTA between Japan and the European Union.
In an apparent effort to keep Japan and the United States from exposing a rift on trade during the pomp and circumstance, a senior U.S. administration official said, “I don’t think that the purpose of this trip is to focus on trade.”
“It’s really to be state guests of their majesties,” the official said, referring to an audience Monday of Trump and first lady Melania with the emperor and Empress Masako.
“It’s a celebration of their new roles and this new era that’s been kicked off -- the Reiwa era -- and a chance to celebrate the alliance,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
The emperor ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 following the abdication of his father and former Emperor Akihito the previous day after a 30-year reign.
In another demonstration of the solid Japan-U.S. alliance, Trump will address troops during a visit Tuesday to the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo.
Trump will underscore the significance of the alliance in deterring aggression in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as the global nature of the bilateral partnership, according to the administration official.
Abe and Trump are also planning to board the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier Kaga docked at an MSDF base in Yokosuka.
In Monday’s summit, the leaders are expected to affirm close coordination over a nuclear-armed North Korea, though the two allies showed different responses to Pyongyang’s launches of short-range ballistic missiles and other projectiles earlier this month.
While Japan condemned the May 9 ballistic missile test as violating U.N. Security Council resolutions, Trump downplayed its impact in an apparent effort to continue engaging with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in hopes of holding a third summit with the aim of denuclearizing Pyongyang.
Trump plans to meet with the relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. He raised the abduction issue during the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit last June in Singapore and also in his second meeting with Kim in February in Hanoi.
As part of efforts to resolve the abduction issue, Abe has expressed his readiness to hold a first-ever Japan-North Korea summit without preconditions.
After arriving in Tokyo Saturday, Trump plans to meet with Japanese business leaders over dinner at which he is likely to seek increased investment -- and creating jobs -- in the United States.
On Sunday, Abe and Trump will play golf together outside Tokyo before they watch a grand sumo tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan where the president will give the winner a custom-made trophy informally dubbed the “Trump Cup.” (Kyodo)