Japan PM Abe seeks to build trust with US President-elect Trump, stresses alliance vital

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) leaves Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Nov 17, 2016.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) leaves Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Nov 17, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday (Nov 17) that he wants to build a relationship of trust when he meets US President-elect Donald Trump this week, stressing that the two-way alliance is the core of Tokyo's diplomacy and security.

Mr Abe, set to meet Mr Trump later on Thursday in New York, is expected to be the first foreign leader to do so since the US billionaire real estate magnate's election on Nov 8.

The US-Japan alliance "is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy and security. Only when there is trust does an alliance come alive," he told reporters before leaving Tokyo, Kyodo news agency reported.

However details about the meeting remain unclear, with Mr Trump's transition team not responding to requests for comment on the meeting.

On Wednesday, Japanese officials said they had not finalised when or where in New York it would take place, who would be invited, or in some cases whom to call for answers.

An adviser to Mr Trump, speaking anonymously because he was not authorised to speak to media, said earlier this week that Mr Trump would seek to reassure Mr Abe and other Asian allies rattled by his campaign rhetoric.

Mr Trump had fanned worries in Tokyo and beyond with his comments on the possibility of Japan acquiring nuclear arms and demands that allies pay more for the upkeep of US forces on their soil or face the possibility of their withdrawal.

"Prime Minister Abe will definitely talk about the importance of the Japan-US alliance and that alliance is not only for Japan and the United States, but also for the entire Indo-Pacific region as well as world politics," Abe adviser Katsuyuki Kawai told Reuters.

Mr Kawai said he had spoken to several Trump advisers and lawmakers since arriving in Washington on Monday and had been told "we don't have to take each word that Mr Trump said publicly literally".

The adviser said he expected Mr Trump would reaffirm "the American commitment to being in the Pacific long-term." He said Japan's financial support for US troops in Japan might come up but was unlikely to be a focus.

Some diplomats say that until Mr Trump makes key appointments, it will be hard to assess his policies on issues ranging from overseas deployments of US troops, China's maritime aggressiveness in Asia and North Korea's nuclear threat.

Mr Abe, a political blue blood and veteran lawmaker, and Mr Trump, a brash outsider with no diplomatic or government experience, have sharp differences on policy issues such as free trade.

Mr Trump's election also has dashed hopes for US approval of a 12-nation trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a linchpin of Washington's "pivot" to Asia and a pillar of Abe's economic reforms.

But the two may find they have much in common, including pledges to restore their countries' global stature and a desire to counter a rising China while improving relations with Russia.