Shinzo Abe has declared his trust and confidence in Donald Trump as the US president-elect’s first meeting with a foreign leader passed off successfully.
Emerging from Trump Tower in New York after an hour-and-a-half meeting, Japan’s prime minister hailed the new president as a man he can do business with.
“Our alliance will not function without trust,” said Mr Abe. “I’m convinced president-elect Trump is a leader I can trust.”
The comments raise questions about Mr Trump’s commitment to his campaign rhetoric — railing against Japanese trade practices and demanding that Tokyo pay for military protection — suggesting he wants to work with US allies instead.
Mr Abe said the atmosphere was “extremely warm” and the two men had a “heart-to-heart” talk. The Japanese prime minister said he explained his basic philosophy and then discussed a range of subjects with Mr Trump.
He declined to elaborate on the discussion. Japan worries about Mr Trump’s pledge to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as well as his commitment to the military alliance underpinning Japan’s precarious security position.
“We agreed to meet again when it’s convenient and discuss an even wider range of issues in greater depth,” said Mr Abe. He gave the president-elect a gift of a golf club and received “golf goods including golf shirts” in return.
In a sign of the turbulence hitting the Trump transition team, Japanese officials did not know until Thursday morning that the meeting would take place at 5pm eastern time at Trump Tower. Breaking with protocol, the Trump team has not involved the state department in the planning, which is normal when the president-elect meets a foreign leader.
Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that the Japanese embassy and prime minister’s office were struggling to identify which Trump officials, if any, were advising the president-elect on Japan and Asia.
But the early meeting is something of a coup for Mr Abe, highlighting his proactive approach to diplomacy, and his belief in personal relations between leaders. Rather than going through usual procedures, he improvised a stop on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Peru.
People who know Mr Abe say he gets on best with leaders who share his conservative, nationalistic outlook, such as Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and former Australian premier Tony Abbott. Mr Trump fits that mould better than Barack Obama, the outgoing president.
Mr Trump’s approach to Asia will have huge implications for Japan — shaping Tokyo’s relations with Beijing in particular. Despite his criticisms of Japan during the campaign, some of the names floated as policymakers in a Trump administration, have hawkish views on China, or support a much bigger navy.
Two of his main Asia advisers, Peter Navarro and Alexander Gray, published an article last week in which they accused the Obama administration of “talking loudly but carrying a small stick” in Asia as it tried to deal with a rising China.
“Trump will steadfastly pursue a strategy of peace through strength, an axiom of Reagan that was abandoned under the Obama administration,” they wrote. “The mere initiation of the Trump naval programme will reassure our allies that the US remains committed in the long term to its traditional role as guarantor of the liberal order in Asia.”
Get alerts on when a new story is published