Trump, Abe bond over sumo and golf while talking trade

United States President Donald Trump presenting Sumo tournament winner Asanoyama with a custom-made trophy called the US President's Cup.
United States President Donald Trump presenting Sumo tournament winner Asanoyama with a custom-made trophy called the US President's Cup.PHOTO: AFP
Mr Trump and Mr Abe taking a selfie at Mobara Country Club in Japan's Chiba prefecture yesterday. Mr Abe said he hoped to make the Japan-US alliance "even more unshakeable". US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, flanked by Japanese
Mr Trump and Mr Abe taking a selfie at Mobara Country Club in Japan's Chiba prefecture yesterday. Mr Abe said he hoped to make the Japan-US alliance "even more unshakeable".PHOTO: REUTERS

Leaders all smiles as they turn to personal diplomacy even as US-Japan trade tensions remain

TOKYO • United States President Donald Trump yesterday played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and presented a trophy to the winner of a sumo tournament, turning to personal diplomacy for the second day of a Japan visit shadowed by tough trade talk.

Mr Trump is unhappy with Japan's large trade surplus and is considering putting high tariffs on its auto exports if a bilateral trade agreement is not reached.

The US and China are also engaged in an expensive trade war that has pounded financial markets worldwide.

But it was all smiles yesterday as the two leaders played golf and later, with wives Melania and Akie, watched sumo wrestlers grapple on the final day of a 15-day tournament, which was won by rising Japanese star Asanoyama.

Mr Trump, the first US president to watch sumo in the sport's homeland, waved to audience members as he entered the hallowed Kokugikan arena and then saluted them with applause as they waved and raised their phones to take photos.

Arriving just in time for Asanoyama's bout, Mr Trump nodded as Mr Abe gestured in explanation, later watching as the three final wrestlers, wearing only traditional loincloths, lifted their legs high and stamped them to the ground in a ritual entrance.

The two couples used armchairs instead of sitting cross-legged on the "zabuton" cushions traditional for close ringside seats.

PROGRESS IN TRADE TALKS

Great progress being made in our trade negotiations with Japan. Agriculture and beef heavily in play... Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet.

 
 

Mr Trump, using a special set of wooden stairs fitted to the sumo ring, presented the 25-year-old Asanoyama with the President's Cup, a trophy topped with a bald eagle, the US' national bird.

"In honour of your outstanding achievement as Sumo Grand Champion, I hereby award you the United States President's Cup," Mr Trump said, reading from a prize certificate.

Security was tight, with fans forced to pass through metal detectors. The traditional throwing of cushions to mark an exciting round was prohibited.

The two leaders met early yesterday at a suburban golf course.

Mr Trump, dressed in a red pullover, and Mr Abe, wearing a blue blazer and white pants, smiled for photographers before taking off for their game, which took place in 30 deg C temperatures as an unseasonal heat wave blasts Japan.

Mr Abe's office later posted a selfie that the Japanese leader took on the course with Mr Trump, showing both men smiling together, and Mr Trump wearing a red "USA" cap. Mr Abe said in the post that he hoped to make the Japan-US alliance "even more unshakeable".

Despite the bonhomie, talk of trade was never far.

After arriving back in Tokyo from the suburban golf course, where the two played 16 holes, Mr Trump tweeted: "Great progress being made in our trade negotiations with Japan. Agriculture and beef heavily in play.


US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, flanked by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie, watching a sumo match on the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo yesterday. Mr Trump, who is on a four-day state visit to Japan, is the first US president to watch sumo in the sport’s homeland. PHOTO: AFP

"Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers."

Later, prior to the start of dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant, where food is served on paddles, Mr Trump said the two had a productive day.

"The Prime Minister and I talked a lot today about trade and military and various other things," he said. "I think we had a very productive day."

An election for the Upper House of Parliament is likely to take place in July, though there is also speculation that Mr Abe may call a snap election for the Lower House at the same time.

 
 
 
 
 

Beef was also heavily in play at lunch. The golf was followed by double cheeseburgers made with US beef, Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The President's state visit is meant to showcase the strength of the Japan-US relationship, but tensions over trade provided a backdrop of uncertainty.

During remarks to business leaders on Saturday night, Mr Trump ribbed Japan over its trading "edge", while saying progress had been made.

"With this deal, we hope to address the trade imbalance, remove barriers to US exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship. And we're getting closer," he said.

"Just last week, US beef exports gained full access to Japan and to the markets in Japan for the first time since the year 2000. We welcome your support in these efforts, and we hope to have several further announcements soon, and some very big ones over the next few months."

US officials have played down prospects of any major progress on the President's four-day trip.

The two leaders are also likely to discuss North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, another point where their thinking diverges.

Japan has said North Korea's recent missile launches were a violation of United Nations resolutions aimed at halting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

However, Mr Trump said yesterday that he was not concerned about them and was confident that the country's leader, Mr Kim Jong Un, would keep his promises.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2019, with the headline 'Trump, Abe bond over sumo and golf while talking trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe