TOKYO - Visiting United States President Donald Trump became the first US Commander-in-Chief to step on board a Japanese warship on Tuesday (May 28), in what the two wartime foes held up as a sign of their ironclad bond as security allies today.
Together with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Trump inspected the JS Kaga at the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo.
The JS Kaga is one of Japan's two largest Izumo-class warships. It will modify these helicopter destroyers into its first aircraft carriers since World War II, in a significant defence upgrade that will allow it to handle short take-off and vertical landing F-35B fighter jets.
Mr Abe's invitation to Mr Trump to board the JS Kaga came as the US marked the Memorial Day holiday in honour of its war dead.
Experts believe it was a political manoeuvre that showcases how far the two countries have come to build an alliance that is the bedrock of regional security and the centrepiece of their Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision.
Their joint inspection of the Kaga came just before Mr Trump celebrated Memorial Day with US servicemen - and without Mr Abe - on board the US warship Wasp, docked at the neighbouring US Naval base in Yokosuka.
"This is the only port in the world where a US Naval fleet and an Allied Naval fleet are working side by side with each other," he said, with Mr Abe beside him on JS Kaga's hangar deck.
"With this extraordinary new equipment, the Kaga will help our nations defend against a range of complex threats in the region and far beyond," he added, in remarks to 500 active service personnel from both the US Navy and the MSDF.
Mr Trump extended his condolences to the victims and family members of a stabbing rampage near Tokyo on Tuesday (May 28): "All Americans stand with the people of Japan and grieve for the victims and for their families."
A 11-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man died in the attack, while at least 16 others were injured. The 51-year-old culprit died of a self-inflicted wound.
Meanwhile, Mr Abe, in his remarks, described the Japan-US security alliance as beneficial for the "international public good".
"The JS Kaga sailed through a vast area from the western Pacific through the Indian Ocean last year, to deepen the cooperation with navies of regional regional partners in close coordination with the US Navy," he said, referring to a mission that took the warship through the South China Sea, much of which is claimed by Beijing.
"Our mission is to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to establish a foundation for regional peace and prosperity."
Later, on the USS Wasp, Mr Trump told the US troops: "We have to protect our country. We have to protect our allies.
"You face down terrorism and render aid in the wake of devastating natural disasters. You proudly patrol the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan (or East Sea), the East China Sea and the South China Sea."
In what may be seen as a warning shot to China, Mr Trump vowed to further ramp up military spending that amounted to US$716 billion (S$986 billion) last year. The budget will be spent on equipment including five guided missile destroyers, four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and 163 F-35 Joint Strike fighter jets.
He also praised Tokyo's plans to purchase 105 new F-35 aircraft - first spelt out in Japan's revised national defence programme guidelines last December - that will give Japan the largest F-35 fleet of any US ally.
Together with Japan, he said, US service personnel are "advancing freedom on the high seas, shielding our nation from dangerous weapons and preserving the peace that generations of valiant American warriors gave their lives to secure".
Mr Trump left Japan at about 1pm (12pm Singapore time) on Tuesday, concluding a four-day state visit during which he and his wife Melania had an audience with Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako as the first state guests of the new Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era.
On his trip, the US leader also played golf and watched a sumo wrestling tournament with Mr Abe, with whom he also discussed such issues as trade and North Korea.