President-elect Donald Trump held his first meeting with a foreign leader, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Trump has previously suggested the U.S. would provide less military support to the key Asian ally, but his transition team has reportedly told Abe's administration not to take what the businessman has said literally.
On Nov. 10, Abe called Trump to congratulate him on his upset victory on Election Day and suggested the two meet in person. On Nov. 17, the Japanese prime minister arrived at Trump Tower in New York City to establish a relationship with the president-elect, CNN reports.
“The Japan-U.S. alliance is the axis of Japan’s diplomacy and security,” Abe said before the meeting. “The alliance becomes alive only when there is trust between us. I would like to build such a trust with Mr. Trump.”
Japanese officials were alarmed following Trump’s previous comments about the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship.
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“Japan is better if it protects itself against this maniac of North Korea,” Trump said during a CNN-moderated town hall meeting in March. “We are better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start protecting itself ... they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.”
Japan has been a pacifist nation ever since World War II, which effectively ended when the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Currently, Japan’s territory is bolstered by 54,000 U.S. troops.
“It is impossible that Japan will arm itself with nuclear weapons,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in response to Trump’s suggestion.
Shortly before the meeting between the two leaders, top Abe aide Katsuyuki Kawai announced that the Trump White House transition team had assured him that the business mogul’s rhetoric from March was not to be taken literally.
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“All the people shared the same opinion -- that we don’t need to be nervous about every single word and phrase said during Mr. Trump’s campaign,” Kawai said.
Abe met with Trump at his home in Trump Tower. The president-elect’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, also attended the meeting, as did his recently appointed National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Ivanka’s inclusion in the meeting broke historical precedent, raising the eyebrows of observers.
“It’s quite unusual to see a family member attending the first encounter between two leaders even if it’s informal,” Professor Yoshinobu Yamamoto of International Relations at the University of Niigata told Agence France-Presse.
“It indicates that she would be playing some important role in the Trump administration,” Yamamoto added. “But it’s no surprise to see her there as she has already been involved in politics. Anyway, that’s the Trump way.”
Unsubstantiated rumors circulating in Japan claim the president-elect will appoint Ivanka as the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Following the meeting, Abe told reporters he had been “convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have confidence.”