President Donald Trump landed in Japan on Saturday, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to treat Trump to lavish dinners, a golf outing and a sumo wrestling tournament. Trump will also be honored as the first state leader to meet the new emperor since his enthronement.
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But while it might seem like a Memorial Day weekend trip full of fun and games for the president, Tokyo hopes that by rolling out the red carpet, they will get one step closer to a favorable trade deal and strengthen security ties to the U.S. during a time of tension and uncertainty in the region.
“Prime Minister Abe, you’ll remember, was the first world leader to meet with President Trump. And now, President Trump is going to be the first world leader to meet with the new emperor,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the visit. “So they’ll have plenty of substance to discuss and some things to announce as well.”
The high-profile diplomatic visit comes as Abe is hoping to put his best foot forward with the United States ahead of an election in Japan, and the city of Osaka will be hosting the G-20 with leaders from around the world.
“I don’t think there's going to be any major breakthrough, we're not going to see a trade deal come out of this and we aren't going to see any major developments,” Shihoko Goto, a Japan expert at the Wilson Center, said of Trump's Tokyo trip. “This is a highly symbolic diplomatic engagement, but it's an important one so Japan is seen as a reliable partner.”
Here are the five things you need to know about the president’s trip.
Golf with Abe
Since Trump entered office, Abe has emerged as one of his closest allies not only in Asia, but the world. While traditional allies were hesitant to roll out the red carpet for the Trump administration, Abe immediately sought out a friendship and diplomatic relationship with Trump.
The two world leaders have spoken over the phone over 40 times, and the president has invited Abe to the United States for special visits to Mar-a-Lago and the White House. Most recently, Abe traveled to Washington to spend a weekend with Trump, when they played golf and celebrated first lady Melania Trump’s birthday with a private dinner.
On Sunday morning, the two leaders traveled south of Tokyo to Mobara Country Club for a round of their favorite sport.
Golf has played an outsized role in the diplomatic relationship between Trump and Abe. Soon after Trump was elected, Abe gifted him a set of gold golf clubs, and the two have played multiple rounds of golf together.
Sunday’s round will be a chance for the two leaders to speak privately about pressing issues like North Korea, Trump’s trade war with China and a potential bilateral trade deal with Japan.
President presents 'Trump Cup' at sumo wrestling match
Abe has invited Trump to join him for the final round of wrestling matches at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium.
The event, attended by more than 1,000 people, allows the Japanese to showcase traditional culture that dates back to the 17th century. But professional wrestling of a different sort also happens to be one of Trump’s favorite pastimes. Before he moved into the White House, Trump made it into the WWE Hall of Fame and even entered the ring to fight with WWE owner Vince McMahon and, with some dramatic flair, shave McMahon’s head.
At the tournament, Trump will present the winner with the "President's Cup," a specially made 'sumo-sized' trophy that stands 4 and half ft. tall a weighs 70 lbs, according to a White House official.
“I’ve always found that fascinating,” Trump said about sumo wrestling last month. He added that it is “something I’ll enjoy very much.”
The president said last month he was convinced to attend the tournament after Abe described it as bigger than the Super Bowl in Japan.
But ahead of the event, the Japanese have raised concerns not only about event security but about the president’s willingness to adhere to traditional norms.
While most attendees will sit cross-legged on a floor cushion, Trump will sit likely be seated in a ringside chair.
New Japanese Emperor
On Monday morning, Trump be the first leader to meet with the new emperor and his wife, Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, since he inherited the throne.
The role of emperor, like the role of the queen of England, is largely ceremonial, but has played an important role during moments of crisis in Japan. Akihito was a popular leader in the country, and his son is expected to usher in a new era of modernity. That era, named “Reiwa,” stands for auspiciousness and harmony.
Trump and Abe talk North Korea
Following the pomp and circumstance of the emperor’s enthronement, Trump and Abe are expected to spend time discussing two of the most pressing issues for U.S.-Japan relations: North Korea and trade.
The threat of North Korea looms large over the island nation of Japan, which largely depends on the United States to help with defense. The Japanese have played a critical role in helping the United States monitor and surveil North Korean ships in the Pacific and have offered their guidance to Trump as he continues to have talks with the hermit nation about nuclear non-proliferation.
But the Japanese have been skeptical of some of Trump’s goals. For one, the Japanese are concerned that the United States will strike a nuclear deal with North Korea that leaves them at risk. Trump could push for North Korea to give up their intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can reach America, while allowing Kim Jong Un to keep firing off short-range missiles with Japan right in the line of fire.
On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that he is not "disturbed" by recent North Korean North Korean short-range missile tests one day after National Security Advisor John Bolton said for the first time they were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” the president tweeted.
The president also embraced Chairman Kim Jong Un's attack on former Vice President Joe Biden after he called Kim a tyrant during a recent speech. Trump claimed that Kim, by using the same "low IQ" insult he throws at political enemies, was sending him a "signal."
North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2019
Speaking to ABC News, a Biden campaign aide said "the tweet speaks for itself, but it's so unhinged and erratic that I'm not sure anyone could even say that with a straight face."
The tweet put the president at odds with Abe, who believes North Korea is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, on the first full day of his state visit.
Still, despite Japanese uneasiness toward its hostile neighbor, Abe is hopeful that he, like Trump, can meet with Kim for a summit. So far, the Japanese have been left out of talks with Kim, but they have advised Trump to convey to Kim their concerns about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, and their desire for abductees to be returned.
The government of Japan is arranging a meeting with Trump, Abe and family members of Japanese people abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Trump has raised the issue with Kim on behalf of the Japanese, but so far has not had any luck with securing their release.
Soon after arriving in Tokyo, President Trump met with Japanese business leaders concerned about the United States' ongoing trade war with China and the president raising tariffs on the Japanese automobile industry.
The president said that the United States and Japan are closing in on a deal that would "address the trade imbalance."
"The United States and Japan are hard at work negotiating a bilateral trade agreement which will benefit both of our countries. I will say that Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years," Trump said. "But that's OK. Maybe that's why you like us so much. But we'll get it a little bit more fair."
Top negotiators for the United States and Japan met ahead of Trump’s trip to Tokyo to discuss a potential bilateral trade deal.
A potential deal would stave off tariffs on Japanese cars and also allow the American agricultural industry more access to Japan.
The United States currently holds a nearly $60 billion trade deficit with Japan.
Soon after taking office, Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal negotiated under President Barack Obama with 12 other countries, like Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Japan has hoped that the United States would return to the alliance, but Trump has made it clear he has no interest.
Abe has worked hard to have a personal rapport with Trump, but so far has not shown much for his efforts.
The U.S. has slapped tariffs on Japanese steel and aluminum and has threatened to tariff popular Japanese cars like Honda and Toyota. The president decided to delay his decision on foreign car tariffs ahead of the May 18 deadline for him to make a decision while negotiations are still underway.
Trump has said he could sign a deal while he is in Japan, but experts say it’s unlikely this trip will offer anything concrete on trade. Still, in a briefing with reporters, White House officials said there could be announcements from the United States over the course of the weekend.
"With so many opportunities for engagement, there appears to be less emphasis this time on concrete deliverables or joint statements and much more emphasis on demonstrating the strength of the U.S.-Japan relationship," said Nicholas Szechenyi, Japan chair at Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But there are also issues that require a lot of coordination, North Korea and trade among them. So it will be an interesting dynamic surrounding the visit."