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Politics & Government

Prelude To A Rumble: In Visit Including Wrestling Match, U.S.-Japan Rifts Exposed


In Japan today, a first for President Trump. He became the first foreign dignitary to meet that country's new emperor. There was a lot of pageantry on display around Trump's visit, pageantry orchestrated to show an iron-clad alliance between Japan and the U.S. But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo, policy rifts were also on plain view.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: President Trump has been grumbling for decades that Japan takes advantage of the U.S. economically. He offered a slightly more polite version of that argument in his press conference today with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have an unbelievably large imbalance, as you know - trade imbalance, which has been there for many, many years, Japan having the big advantage. They are brilliant business people, brilliant negotiators and put us in a very tough spot.

KUHN: Abe responded by updating an argument Japan has made for years.



KUHN: "Since President Trump came to office," he said, "Japanese companies have decided to make new investments in the U.S. worth $24 billion, creating some 45,000 new jobs."

Trump, though, did not offer to remove the threat of tariffs on Japan's top export, cars. On North Korea, President Trump repeated that he's not bothered by Pyongyang's launch this month of short-range missiles which cannot hit the U.S. That's not very reassuring to Japan, which they can hit. The U.S. and Japan also differ on Iran, with which Japan has had close ties. Abe offered to mediate.

The rifts were almost forgotten amidst the pageantry of Trump meeting the new Japanese emperor and watching a sumo match. But Jeff Kingston, a Japan expert at Temple University in Tokyo, says that for Abe, the pomp has a purpose.

JEFF KINGSTON: For Abe, this is a crisis-management strategy. This is the way to deal with an erratic Trump. And he's really hoping that his blossoming bromance will, in some way, convince Trump to cut him some slack. And I'm skeptical about that.

KUHN: Kingston says Trump and Abe have simply put off the hard bargaining until after Japanese elections in July. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.