WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AFP) – After reportedly hitting it off in the Oval Office President Donald Trump and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe flew south to tee off on the golf course, meeting on Saturday (Feb 11) in Florida to discuss US-Asia engagement.
As part of a two-day visit that began in Washington, Abe and Trump jetted to the US President’s Mar-a-Lago estate together on Friday aboard Air Force One for more diplomatic talks and a round of golf at the “ Trump International Golf Club” in West Palm Beach.
The temperamental US President was on the charm offensive on Friday when he greeted the Japanese leader with an affectionate hug, dropping his previous harsh rhetoric towards Tokyo and ensuring America’s commitment to Japan’s security.
Abe, who has emphasised that his golf skills are not on par with the billionaire Republican’s, welcomed the opportunity to “take time to talk with Donald about the future of the world and the future of the region.”
The Japanese prime minister has spent more time with Trump than any foreign leader since the real estate mogul’s election, as world powers grapple with how to engage with the mercurial American president who conducts some of his diplomacy via Twitter.
Abe’s work-and-play date with Trump evokes a similar outing made by the Japanese leader’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who more than half-a-century ago sported a polo and hit the links with former US president Dwight Eisenhower.
Trump has dramatically shifted his stance on Asia in recent days, after campaigning on an “America first” platform and expressing a willingness to toss out existing agreements and relationships.
On Thursday evening, he reaffirmed Washington’s “One China” policy – a decades-old position that effectively acknowledges that Taiwan is not separate from China – in what he called an “extremely cordial” phone conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The vow to “honour” the diplomatic code represented a 180-degree turn for Trump, who had suggested the matter was up for negotiation and could form part of talks on trade, eliciting Chinese ire.
Early on Friday, Trump also signalled to Abe that his administration would work to cement US-Japanese relations.
The leaders were both looking to mend ties that were strained by Trump’s rejection of a trans-Pacific trade deal and his readiness to question US defence commitments.
“The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep,” he said. This administration is committed to bringing those ties even closer.”
Trump also pleased Tokyo when he said in a statement that the United States would defend Japan if China were to seize the disputed Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.
Trump and Abe were not scheduled to speak to the press on Saturday.
US First Lady Melania Trump and Abe’s wife Akie, meanwhile, toured a Japanese culture museum and garden complex in Florida where they saw a bonsai exhibition and fed koi fish.