US President Donald Trump, fresh off patching up ties with China, reassured Japan’s leader that the US would defend its close ally. Together, the pronouncements illustrated a shift toward a more mainstream Trump stance on US policy on Asia.
Welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House with a hug, Trump on Friday said he wants to bring the post-World War II alliance with Japan “even closer.”
While such calls are ritual after these types of meetings, from Trump they are sure to calm anxieties that he has stoked by demanding that the US’ partners pay more for their own defense.
Abe, a nationalist adept at forging relationships with self-styled strongmen overseas, was the only world leader to meet the US Republican before his inauguration. He is now the second to do so since Trump took office.
Flattering the billionaire businessman, Abe said he would welcome the US becoming “even greater.”
He also invited Trump to visit Japan this year. Trump accepted, according to a joint statement.
Other leaders of the US’ closest neighbors and allies, such as Mexico, Britain and Australia, have been singed by their encounters or conversations with Trump.
However, the optics Friday were positive. After a working lunch on economic issues, the two leaders boarded Air Force One with their wives for a trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
Trump and Abe were yesterday scheduled to play golf.
Their Oval Office meeting came hours after Trump reaffirmed the US’ long-standing “one China” policy in a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
That statement will similarly ease anxieties in East Asia after Beijing was angered and other capitals were rattled by earlier suggestions that he might use Taiwan as leverage in trade, security and other negotiations.
Although Japan is a historic rival of China, Trump said that his long and “warm” conversation with Xi was good for Tokyo, too.
“I believe that will all work out very well for everybody: China, Japan, the United States and everybody in the region,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Abe.
Stepping carefully into Japan’s long-standing territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, Trump said the US is committed to the security of Japan and all areas under its administrative control.
The implication was that the US-Japan defense treaty covers the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands.
Beijing opposes such statements, but Trump’s wording allowed for some diplomatic wiggle room.
However, a joint statement released afterward was more explicit, spelling out US commitment.
In Taipei, Presidential Office spokesperson Alex Huang (黃重諺) yesterday reiterated Taiwan’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutais, calling for all parties to set aside their differences and jointly develop the islands.
Additional reporting by CNA