US President Donald Trump issued a blunt face-to-face challenge to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in full view of the cameras Wednesday, demanding more favorable terms on trade.
‘As the prime minister knows, they have done very well with the United States. We have a very big deficit,’ Trump said as the two leaders and their delegations sat across the table from each other at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida.
Insisting the ‘relationship is a very good one,’ Trump nonetheless broke with the usual diplomatic niceties, urging Abe do more to make trade ‘free, fair and reciprocal.’
‘We have a massive deficit with Japan,’ he said, pointing to passenger plane and fighter jet orders that could plug the gap before railing about unfair practices.
‘The word ‘reciprocal’ is that when you have a car come in, we charge you a tax. When we have a car go through Japan, which aren’t allowed to go there, we have to take down the barriers and we have to pay the same tax,’ Trump said.
‘But that goes for other countries too,’ he said, vowing to ‘weed’ the deficit down.
The blunt talk will appeal to Trump’s domestic political base, which was promised a better economic deal and a tougher ‘America First’ stance under his administration.
‘This is a very exciting meeting for me, because I like this maybe the best. I love the world of finance and the world of economics, and probably, it’s where I do the best,’ Trump said, playing up his business credentials.
But his comments may have made for an uneasy moment for the visiting leader and ally.
Abe is struggling with languishing approval ratings and, while keen to stress a good relationship with Trump, would want to avoid being seen as a lap dog.
The Japanese leader has so far rebuffed Trump’s efforts to open talks on a bilateral trade deal, but has been willing to announce major investments that Trump can paint as a personal victory.