On Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump begins a two-day summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a White House meeting, followed by a working lunch and a news conference. It continues with an “informal” day of discussions over rounds of golf at the president’s so-called “Winter White House” in Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday. The Prime Minister is expected to depart Florida on Sunday.
A senior Trump administration official called the summit “a natural result” of the foundation laid between the two leaders, adding that Trump believes in getting to know other foreign leaders so he can “get the measure of people in informal settings.” Another administration official referred to the trip to Mar-a-Lago as a “personal gift” from President Trump to Prime Minister Abe.
Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after his election in November, visiting him at his Trump Tower in New York just nine days after the historic win. Tokyo had been worried by Trump’s campaign rhetoric demanding that allies pay more for hosting U.S. forces, his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and his openness to the possibility of Japan acquiring nuclear arms. After their 90-minute meeting, Abe called Trump “a trustworthy leader.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made his first foreign visit last week to South Korea and Japan, telling Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, “We see the alliance between ourselves, and Japan, as a cornerstone for peace, prosperity, and freedom in the Asian Pacific area.”
Economic priorities like a Japan-U.S. bilateral trade agreement and Tokyo job creation proposals for the United States are expected to be intertwined with conversations on the security relationship between the two allies. A senior U.S. official said currency manipulation was not “at the top of the list” but confirms that discussions will include the disputed island chain in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu Islands by China and the Senkaku Islands by Japan. Trump, he said, will reaffirm U.S. recognition of Japan’s administration of the islands, but will not weigh in on the issue of sovereignty. Earlier this week, three Chinese coastguard vessels entered waters off the coast of the archipelago, prompting a rebuke from Tokyo.
The informal nature of the latter half of Trump-Abe summit evokes the so-called Sunnylands Summit in June 2013, between former U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the two leaders discussed a new model of major country relations.
But Trump and Xi have yet to speak by phone. The two have exchanged letters, however. Thursday, President Trump sent a letter to President Xi wishing him and the Chinese people a happy Lantern Festival and a healthy and prosperous Year of the Rooster. A senior U.S. official says Trump “does look forward to discussing matters of mutual cooperation as well as delving into some of the well-known differences in the relationship.”