Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has met President-elect Donald Trump in a hastily-arranged 90-minute meeting. Abe is the first foreign leader to meet Trump face-to-face.
"I do believe that without confidence between the two nations [the] alliance would never function in the future and [after] the outcome of today's discussion I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence," Abe said following the meeting. The Japanese premier added that the talks had been "candid" and took place in a "very warm atmosphere."
Abe arrived in New York on Thursday en route to the APEC summit in Peru. The two men met at Trump's Manhattan skyscraper Trump Tower, where Trump is mulling picks for secretary of state in preparation for taking office on January 20.
Japanese alarm bells
Abe, whose stances on security have earned him a reputation as a defense hawk, reportedly wanted Trump's assurances on issues ranging from Asian security to trade.
"Trump's victory has amplified uncertainty across Asia. Many people are dismayed," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan, told CNN recently. "I think Abe understands that Trump is a brittle person who takes offense easily and he will want to set a positive tone. He didn't have good chemistry with Obama," says Kingston.
US President Barack Obama (C) stands next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park cenotaph in Hiroshima on May 27, 2016.
Before leaving Tokyo, Abe said he wanted to build trust with Trump, telling reporters that the US-Japan alliance "is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy and security."
Abe adviser Katsuyuki Kawai told Reuters news agency he had spoken to several Trump advisers since arriving in Washington on Monday and had been told: "We don't have to take each word that Mr. Trump said publicly literally."
A Trump adviser said earlier this week he expected the president-elect to reaffirm "the American commitment to being in the Pacific long term."
Japan will also want to know how Trump plans to approach North Korea, which has ramped up its testing of missiles this year, including a nuclear warhead. Trump has said he would be happy to host the country's dictator, Kim Jong Un, for a visit. "What the hell is wrong with speaking?" Trump said in June.
Trump alarmed Tokyo during his campaign by suggesting a pull-out of thousands of US troops from the region. He also said that Japan - officially pacifist - may need nuclear weapons.
Japan was already nervous about the US commitment to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack by the North. He also suggested during the campaign that Japan and South Korea were free-riding on US security commitments.
Trump has said that while Japan is spending more on defense, in the long run it will need to expand military spending beyond its current 1 percent of GDP.
The US is projected to spend $5.745 billion for US forces in Japan in the current 2017 fiscal year. According to Japan's Defense Ministry, Tokyo's expenses related to US troops stationed in Japan totaled about 720 billion yen ($6.6 billion) in the year that ended in March.
Trump also said he would tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade pact backed by outgoing President Barack Obama and which Abe had made a top priority. If the TPP is ratified before President Barack Obama leaves office, Trump still has the authority to withdraw the US from the treaty.
Abe worked closely with Obama on the 12-nation TPP trade pact, which was part of Obama's push to counter the rising strength of China and was also a pillar of Abe's economic reforms.
Many commentators believe it highly likely Trump will slap tariffs on Asian imports, possibly triggering a currency war. A survey of investors in July by Nomura Holdings noted a list of worries under a Trump presidency: from a possible rise in trade protectionism to threats to regional security if the US cuts its military commitments in Asia.
"A Trump presidency would no doubt hurt Asia's gross domestic product growth and could ultimately drive cost-push inflation, impart smaller trade surpluses and looser macroeconomic policies," said Rob Subbaraman, the report's lead author.
Some 77 percent of respondents in a Nomura survey said they expected the US will brand China a currency manipulator under Trump and 75 percent predicted he will impose tariffs on exports from China, South Korea and Japan.
Who will be top diplomat?
MSNBC reported that Trump may be considering one of his harshest Republican critics, Mitt Romney, as secretary of state. Trump is apparently set to meet with the former Massachusetts governor over the weekend.
jbh/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)