Abe expresses confidence in Trump

Mr Abe being welcomed by Mr Trump in New York on Thursday. With them were Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. The meeting partially lifted the cloud of uncertainty that had been cast over ties between the two alli
Mr Abe being welcomed by Mr Trump in New York on Thursday. With them were Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. The meeting partially lifted the cloud of uncertainty that had been cast over ties between the two allies, with Mr Abe calling the US President-elect "a leader who can be trusted".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Both leaders voice optimism over ties, but keep mum on whether progress was made in disputes

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged from a meeting with US President-elect Donald Trump sounding an optimistic note on the future of bilateral ties, even as both sides kept mum on whether progress had been made on major disagreements.

Mr Abe was in New York seeking reassurances on the longstanding security alliance between the two countries after a series of unsettling remarks from the tycoon, and he left Trump Tower on Thursday hailing a "candid" meeting.

"I believe we were able to truly talk at length and extensively in a frank and candid manner," he told reporters in Japanese after the 90-minute meeting.

"The meeting took place in a very warm atmosphere. It gave me confidence that the two of us can build a relationship of trust," he said. "Our alliance will not function without trust. I came away convinced that President-elect Trump is a leader who can be trusted."

Mr Abe also said the two agreed to meet again for "broader and more in-depth" discussion.

Sounding equally pleased, Mr Trump said in a Facebook post with a photo of him and Mr Abe: "It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop by my home and begin a great friendship."

Also at the meeting - the first between Mr Trump and a foreign leader - were his daughter Ivanka, son- in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and retired lieutenant-general Michael Flynn, who reports said had accepted Mr Trump's offer to be national security adviser.

Besides Mr Abe, Mr Trump met former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. As the two leaders are known to be avid golfers, Mr Abe reportedly gave Mr Trump a golf driver and received a golf shirt.

The cordial meeting partially lifted the cloud of uncertainty that Mr Trump's win had cast over ties between the two allies. On the campaign trail, he alarmed many in Japan with remarks about getting the Japanese to pay more for defence the US provides, and suggestions that Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump also opposes the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, which Mr Abe spent considerable political capital pushing through. Japan has indicated that it would be forced to explore other regional free trade deals, like the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, if the TPP fails.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry yesterday warned that any bilateral cooperation should not hurt the interests of other countries.

"We hope that any cooperation and bilateral arrangements will not damage the interest of a third party," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was quoted as saying.

Asia watchers say that while it is too early to predict what the alliance will be like under the Trump administration, there is reason to be hopeful about the relationship.

Said Dr Patrick Cronin, a senior adviser at the Centre for a New American Security: "I think there's a natural affinity between Trump and Abe. They're both strong-minded leaders. They're both conservative in terms of nationalism. They're both interested in dealing with a rising China. And I think the people around Trump who will be on his national security team... will be arguing for a very strong, vibrant US-Japan alliance."

He added that Mr Trump's calls for Japan to do more militarily ties in well with Mr Abe's own efforts in recent years to broaden the interpretation of the nation's pacifist Constitution.

"I think Abe doesn't mind that because Abe's vision is for a more normal security posture. So there is a natural art of the deal ready to be made with Japan on this issue."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Abe expresses confidence in Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe