NEW YORK - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged from a meeting with US president-elect Donald Trump sounding an optimistic note about the future of US-Japan ties, even as both sides kept mum on whether progress had been made on major disagreements.
Mr Abe had come to New York seeking reassurances on the long-standing security alliance between the two countries after a series of unsettling remarks from the tycoon, and he left Trump Tower on Thursday (Nov 17) hailing a “candid” meeting.
“I believe we were able to truly talk at length and extensively in a frank and candid manner,” he told reporters in Japanese after a 90-minute meeting. “The meeting took place in a very warm atmosphere. It gave me confidence that the two of us can build a relationship of trust.”
He added: “Our alliance will not function without trust. I came away convinced that President-elect Trump is a leader who can be trusted.”
The Japanese leader also said that the two agreed to meet again for “broader and more in-depth” discussion.
Mr Trump and his team did not offer any comment about the meeting.
Photos from the meeting show Mr Trump accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, as well as retired army lieutenant general Michael Flynn, who is reportedly being tapped to be Mr Trump’s national security adviser.
The first ever face-to-face meeting between president-elect Trump and a foreign leader came on a day when the tycoon split his time between foreign policy and the continuing task to appoint key Cabinet officials.
Apart from Mr Abe, a slew of visitors had streamed through the doors of Trump Tower, including former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.
Mr Abe had reportedly given the the tycoon a golf driver while he received a golf shirt from the president-elect. Both leaders are known to be avid golfers.
The cordial meeting partially lifts the cloud of uncertainty Mr Trump’s victory had cast over the relationship between the two allies.
On the campaign trail, Mr Trump had alarmed many in Japan with remarks about getting the Japanese to pay more for the defence that the US provides, and suggestions that Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons.
Mr Trump is also a staunch opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, a deal that PM Abe had spent considerable political capital pushing through. The Japanese government has indicated that it would be forced to explore other regional free trade deals, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, if the TPP fails.
Asia watchers say that while it is too early to make predictions about what the alliance will be like under the Trump administration, there is reason to be hopeful about the relationship.
Said Dr Patrick Cronin, a senior advisor at the Centre for a New American Security: “I think there's a natural affinity between Trump and Abe. They're both strong-minded leaders. They're both conservative in terms of nationalism. They're both interested in dealing with a rising China. And I think the people around Trump who will be on his national security team... will be arguing for a very strong, vibrant U.S.-Japan alliance.”
He also noted that Mr Trump calls for Japan to do more militarily also jives well with Mr Abe’s own efforts in recent years to broaden the interpretation of the country’s pacifist Constitution,
“I think Abe doesn't mind that because Abe's vision is for a more normal security posture. So there is a natural art of the deal ready to be made with Japan on this issue, as long as it's managed well and it doesn't become finger pointing and ‘I told you, you need to do more’ and ‘I'm pulling out tomorrow’. As long as it's not treated as raw transactional politics, they can do something about this.”