Japan PM Abe in US for talks and golf with President Trump

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Matsuzaki arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, on Feb 9, 2017.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Matsuzaki arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, on Feb 9, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Washington for talks with US President Donald Trump aimed at setting a new course for the crucial bilateral relationship, amid strains over trade and defence.

Mr Abe and his wife Akie descended the stairs of their jet at Joint Base Andrews just outside the US capital, their overcoats blowing in the fierce winter wind.

On Friday (Feb 10), the Japanese prime minister will meet business leaders and place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery before heading to the White House for his noon (1 am Saturday, Feb 11, Singapore time) meeting with Mr Trump.

The pair will hold a joint news conference about an hour later.

In the late afternoon, they will head to Florida, where Mr Trump will host Mr Abe at his luxury Mar-a-Lago golf club and estate - now dubbed the "Winter White House". The pair will hit the golf course on Saturday.

"That's the one thing about golf - you get to know somebody better on a golf course than you will over lunch," Mr Trump recently told a radio interviewer.

Mr Abe is looking to form a personal bond with the mercurial property mogul-turned president, amid strains between Washington and Tokyo over Mr Trump's destruction of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and his apparent willingness to put long-standing defence commitments into question.

Mr Abe is expected to dangle proposals to create hundreds of thousands of US jobs, via high-speed rail projects and private cash from Japanese companies.

The quid pro quo would be a commitment to shared defence and avoiding a race-to-the-bottom trade war.

"I want to hold a summit that can send a message saying the Japan-US alliance will strengthen further with President Trump," Mr Abe told reporters at the airport in Tokyo before departure.

"We will develop the two countries' economies even more based on free and fair rules," Mr Abe added, stressing he wants to "confirm that" with Mr Trump at the meeting.