President Donald Trump continued his tough line on both North Korea and trade Monday, standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and promising to work in solidarity with Japan to confront “the North Korean menace.”
At an afternoon news conference with Abe here, Trump declared, “the era of strategic patience is over,” and promised to counter “the dangerous aggressions” of a country whose leader the president has repeatedly dubbed “Rocket Man.”
“The regime continues development of its unlawful weapons programs, including its illegal nuclear tests and outrageous launches of ballistic missiles directly overly Japanese territory,” Trump said. “We will not stand for that.”
In his own remarks, Abe affirmed Trump’s stance, saying Japan supports the president’s previous comments that “all options are on the table” and similarly favors an approach of increasing pressure on North Korea rather than continuing dialogue with the nation.
Responding to a question – directed at Abe – about news reports that Trump had previously suggested to the Japanese prime minister that the “samurai” nation should have simply shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over it before crashing into the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, the president answered instead on Abe’s behalf.
“He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States,” Trump said. “The prime minister is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment by far.”
Trump’s remarks came during his second full day in Japan – the first stop on a five-country, 12-day swing through Asia – and follows a series of events and meetings designed to underscore the close personal relationship between the two leaders.
On Sunday, Abe and Trump golfed nine holes at a country club here – jovially exchanging a fist-bump at one point – and Abe made sure that Trump, a picky eater, was served a burger specially made with American beef. He also designed several golf caps mimicking Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats from the campaign trail: “Donald & Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater,” read Abe’s twist on the Trump’s signature slogan.
And on Monday, the two men both fed Koi in a pond at one of the nation’s palaces – a quintessential photo opportunity until Trump, ever-impatient, overturned his small wooden box of fish food and dumped the entire meal into the pond.
But despite the warm remarks on both sides – “Indeed, how many hours of dialogue did we have?” Abe even asked, at one point, recalling their friendship that dates back to the prime minister’s trip to Trump Tower before Trump had even been sworn in – Trump took a hard-line on trade earlier in the day Monday, scolding Japan for the “massive trade deficits” between the nations.
“For the last many decades, Japan has been winning, you do know that,” Trump told a gathering of business leaders here. “We want fair and open trade, but right now our trade with Japan is not fair and it’s not open. But I know it will be, soon. We want free and reciprocal trade, but right now our trade with Japan is not free and it’s not reciprocal, and I know it will be.”
In the news conference, Trump largely avoided a question about whether his tough stance on trade puts him on a collision course with China. But he did say the U.S. was facing a “very unfair trade situation” with China, which he visits later this week, and reiterated his belief that “reciprocal” trade between the U.S. and any nation is his preference.
Trump, who still has more than a week left on his trip through the region and appeared in high spirits when he first arrived in Japan, seemed to have wilted by the time he stepped behind his lectern Monday afternoon. He spoke in a largely flat monotone, and leaned on the lectern at points.
Gone were his trademark flourishes, which reappeared only a handful of times, such as when he took part of Abe’s question to tout the U.S.’s fighter jets and missiles (“the best military equipment by far”) and promise that Japan would be able to take on future North Korea missiles with precision after buying U.S. systems (“He will shoot them out of the sky”).
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Ashley Parker