Last weekend, President Trump spent the weekend with the one man that represents America’s best and truest ally in the Pacific save only Australia – Japan. The Japan Times had this to say about their meeting. Excerpt:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have got exactly what he wanted in his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Abe’s three-day visit to the United States, the first since the inauguration of the Trump administration, was marked by friendly overtones and included two nights of dinners in a row and golfing in Palm Beach, Florida, where the president hosted the Japanese leader at his winter estate. Trump gave assurances to Abe over the bilateral security alliance while remaining silent over his earlier aggressive criticism of Japan over trade and currency issues.
But if Trump had merely tamed his protectionist pitch to play up his friendly rapport with Abe, those issues may have just been set aside to be taken up later in the “bilateral dialogue framework” that the two leaders agreed to create to discuss trade and investment matters. A close aide to Abe reportedly said the two leaders confirmed that the trade disputes of the 1980s were a “thing of the past.” But Trump’s remarks before the meeting had been enough to raise the specter of the bitter trade friction between the two countries. It’s not clear whether Abe succeeded in changing the minds of the U.S. president during the talks. The government needs to hold Japan’s ground in the upcoming dialogue.
But here’s the real money (hah) quote – bear in mind this article is written from Japan’s point of view:
What’s worrisome about Trump’s views on trade issues is that they may not be shaped by a correct understanding of the relevant facts. In singling out Japan — along with China — as countries that engage in trade practices that are “not fair” to American firms during his earlier talks with U.S. business leaders, the president reportedly claimed that countries such as Japan “charge a lot of tax” on U.S. products and said that “if they’re going to charge tax to our countries — if as an example, we sell a car into Japan and they do things to us that make it impossible to sell cars in Japan. … It’s not fair.” Separately, he effectively charged that Japan and China manipulate the exchange rates to drive their currencies lower against the dollar — on which he blamed the U.S. trade deficits.
Japan needs the United States, probably more than we need them. I’ve done a fair amount of business there, and all three companies I’ve worked with sell over half of their output to Americans and American companies. That makes us their most important market.
It’s odd to my WW2-generation parents – they’ve told me so themselves – but it’s in America’s best interests to maintain a solid working relationship with Japan, not least of which is because of the stare-down our island allies are having with China. Two major trade partners are snapping at each other, which puts President Trump in a damned delicate situation.
Here’s what I found encouraging about last weekend’s events, at least as far as American-Japanese relations are concerned – the President and Prime Minister Abe appear to get along very well personally, playing golf together and by all appearances enjoying a fine dinner with spouses and aides at Trump’s Florida resort.
Why is that encouraging? Because of something I’ve learned over almost fifteen years of self-employment: People do business with people they like. A good personal relationship with Prime Minister Abe will make it easier for President Trump, a man of business, to do business with Japan.
I confess to some selfish motive here. I’ve done business in Japan, have lived and worked there, and I have had and always will have a very real fondness for the place and it’s people. I want to do business there again. I hope President Trump and Prime Minister Abe agree on a trade deal to make that possible.