Trump talks trade and defence with Abe at G-20, days after criticising Japan again for unfairness

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the G-20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019.
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the G-20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

OSAKA – US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday (June 28) discussed joint efforts by their countries to “ensure respect for sovereignty, the rule of law, and the principle of free, fair and reciprocal trade”, a White House statement said.

Their 12th meeting – the third in as many months – occurred on the sidelines of the two-day Group of 20 (G-20) leaders’ summit in Osaka that begins on Friday.

The two leaders, in their 45-minute talks, reaffirmed their commitment on the US-Japan coordination on shared security challenges including North Korea and Iran, the White House added. The statement did not elaborate what their discussions on the respect for sovereignty had involved.

“They confirmed their intent to deepen and expand US-Japan alliance cooperation around the globe, including taking steps to maintain the alliance’s technological advantage and bolstering systems to safeguard sensitive information and technology sharing,” the readout said, adding that they discussed ongoing US-Japan bilateral trade negotiations.

Japanese Foreign Press Secretary Takeshi Osuga added that the two leaders confirmed they will “continue to further strengthen the unshakeable alliance”, but did not go into the minutiae of the 1960 US-Japan security treaty that has been criticised this week by Mr Trump.

He added that the two leaders also discussed China, on which they confirmed the importance of “continuing dialogue in a constructive manner with the Chinese government in the fields of security and economy”.

On Iran, which is days away from breaching a threshold on enriched uranium stockpiles under a 2015 nuclear deal that Mr Trump jettisoned last year, the Agence France-Presse reported the US leader as having separately said: “We have a lot of time. There’s no rush, they can take their time. There is absolutely no time pressure. Hopefully in the end it’s going to work out. If it does, great, if it doesn’t, you’ll be hearing about it.”

 
 
 
 

Mr Abe visited Teheran two weeks ago to broker an uneasy peace between the two countries, though his attempt was complicated by an attack on two oil tankers – one Japanese – sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.

On Friday, Mr Abe noted at the outset of his talks with Mr Trump the international challenges facing an uncertain global environment, like ensuring sustainable economic growth.

He added: “I’d like to communicate a strong message: Without the cooperation of the US and Japan, such work wouldn’t be possible.”

Still, despite Mr Abe’s best efforts to court the US President – including inviting him as the first state guest of the new Reiwa (beautiful harmony) imperial era and bending traditional customs at a prestigious sumo tournament last month – Mr Trump has continued to take potshots at Japan on what he sees as unfairness in defence and trade.

Just days ago, Mr Trump slammed the imbalance in the 1960 Japan-US security treaty as one that does not oblige Japan to defend the US if it is attacked, allowing it to just sit by and “watch it on a Sony television”.

Japan renounced its right to wage war in the 1947 US-written Constitution after its defeat in World War II, and in return hosts 54,000 American soldiers in 85 bases across the country that allows Washington to project its military power in the region.

Japan’s huge trade surplus over the US, likewise, has been a perennial bugbear for Mr Trump, who has refused to budge significantly on the issue except giving Mr Abe a reprieve in delaying an outcome until after an Upper House election scheduled for July 21.

The US wants to set a numerical ceiling on Japanese auto exports to the country in exchange for not slapping a uniform 25 per cent duty on Japanese cars and auto parts.

Washington also wants Tokyo to remove tariffs on US agricultural produce – which will require Mr Abe to expend much domestic political capital – but Japan is reluctant to go beyond what has been agreed under the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Japan-European Union economic partnership agreement.

Mr Trump said during his talks with Mr Abe that he appreciates that Japanese auto companies have a presence in many US states from Michigan to Ohio, Pennsylvania to North Carolina. These states will be key to his winning re-election next year.

According to Mr Osuga, Mr Abe told Mr Trump in their meeting that there have been 16 new investments by Japanese companies in the US in the last three months.

“I see they’re building all over the United States, a lot of the great Japanese car companies - and other Japanese companies also,” Mr Trump told Mr Abe. “They’re coming in and they’re building magnificent plants. We haven’t had that, and we very much appreciate it.”