US, Japan reaffirm 'unshakeable alliance'

US President Donald Trump (left) and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe walking into the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Feb 10, 2017.
US President Donald Trump (left) and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe walking into the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Feb 10, 2017. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Trump assures Abe of US commitment to security of Japan and the areas it administers

The US and Japan reaffirmed their "unshakeable alliance" during President Donald Trump's first meeting with an Asian leader since taking office, one replete with smiles, handshakes and a big hug.

Mr Trump's meeting with the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was being closely watched, coming after his campaign claims that Japan is not paying enough for its defence by the United States, and stealing US jobs too.

"When I greeted him today at the car, I shook hands, but I grabbed him and hugged him, because that's the way we feel," Mr Trump told journalists after meeting Mr Abe on Friday.  Mr Abe was also the first foreign leader to meet the then President-elect in New York after Mr Trump won the Nov 8 election.

At their second meeting, the two leaders heaped praise on each other. "We have an unwavering bond," Mr Abe said.

In turn, Mr Trump said: "We developed a great friendship. We have very good chemistry."

Later, he tweeted a picture of them on board the Marine One helicopter that took them to Andrews Air Force Base, from where they flew to the President's resort in Florida for more talks and some golf.

Earlier, at their press conference, Mr Trump said the US-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability, and assured Mr Abe of his country's commitment to Japan's defence.

"We are committed to the security of Japan and all areas under its administrative control," he said, a reference to the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China, which calls the islets Diaoyu.

"It is important that both Japan and the US continue to invest very heavily in the alliance to build up our… defensive capabilities," Mr Trump said, adding: "Thank you and the people of Japan for hosting our armed forces."

A joint statement "affirmed the commitment of the United States and Japan to the realignment of US forces in Japan, to ensure the long- term, sustainable presence of US forces". It also said that amid an increasingly difficult security environment in the Asia-Pacific region, "the US will strengthen its presence in the region, and Japan will assume larger roles and responsibilities in the alliance".

Saying the US and  Japan would "deepen cooperation to safeguard the peace and stability of the East China Sea", the statement also called on "countries concerned to avoid actions that would escalate tensions in the South China Sea, including the militarisation of outposts, and to act in accordance with international law".

Mr Abe avoided commenting on Mr Trump's move to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But a "new framework" for economic dialogue was due to be discussed between Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Vice-President Mike Pence.

Mr Abe also stressed that Japanese companies had invested US$150 billion (S$213 billion) in the US last year, creating many jobs.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'US, Japan reaffirm 'unshakeable alliance''. Print Edition | Subscribe