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Japan's Shinzo Abe criticized for 'golf summit' with Donald Trump
09 February 2017, 12:42 | Candice Butler
"We're going to have a round of golf, which is a great thing", Trump said in the phone interview, according to a White House transcript.
Trump has also suggested that Japan is not paying enough for US protection.
While Japan's economy still relies heavily on exports for growth, its officials are eager to alter lingering perceptions that the trade advantage is skewed to Japan, a view based on trade wars fought with the USA decades ago. And just recently, Trump accused Tokyo of using monetary policy to devalue its currency to benefit Japanese exporters.
If, on the other hand, the Trump team takes a little more nuanced approach, Japan will try to strengthen collaboration with the US and use that to pressure China, whose favorable treatment for state enterprises is a perennial sticking point with Washington.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on February 7, "It's extremely important (for the prime minister) to build a personal relationship of trust (with the president)", justifying Abe's golf diplomacy.
Trump reportedly wanted to talk about a bilateral trade deal - that is, a trade agreement between only two countries - connecting the USA and Japan.
With a proposed $450 billion in infrastructure investments in the United States, Japan would generate 700,000 jobs, the paper claims, according to reports in the Japanese media.
Abe's desire to form a personal bond with Trump has been well-documented, as has Abe's commitment to building good foreign relationships. He also wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) binding Mexico, the United States and Canada, the basis of many Japanese firms' investment plans.
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"I don't think Mr. Abe will say "no" to the bilateral option but I don't think he will say it is a good idea, either", one Japanese official said.
Japan's desire to arrive with gifts appears to be an attempt to counter Trump's repeated criticisms of Japan's currency management and trade practices.
Polls have shown that most Japanese expect relations with the United States to worsen under Trump.
Abe is likely to reassure Trump that Japan is willing to play a bigger regional defense role and beef up its military capabilities.
Some experts cautioned that too subservient a response by Abe, such as a government-inspired jobs creation package, risks confirming Trump's view that old-style Japan bashing works.
"We hope to have constructive talks in order to seek how we can forge a mutually win-win relationship", Suga said.
Trump's complaints over Japanese not buying many USA -made cars drew a stern response from Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp.
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