Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has become the first foreign leader to meet Japan’s newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito, in a state visit overshadowed by tensions over trade and policy on North Korea.
Naruhito and Empress Masako on Monday greeted Trump at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as part of a formal welcoming ceremony that was broadcast live on national television.
Later on Monday, the US president and his wife, Melania Trump, will sit down to a lavish state dinner with the emperor and empress.
Emperor Naruhito ascended to the throne on May 1, opening what is called the era of “Reiwa,” or “beautiful harmony.”
Trump is also slated to hold formal talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after the two men spent the weekend playing golf, eating out and watching sumo. They will speak to the press later on Monday.
“There’s a sense that this is another sign of the good relations between these two countries, but in particular a sign of the relationship between Trump and Abe,” Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Tokyo, said.
“There’s a sense that they could have given this meeting to anyone, but they didn’t. They gave it to the US, they gave it to Trump.”
Abe and Trump played golf at Mobara Country Club over the weekend [Japan’s Cabinet Public Relations Office via Kyodo/via Reuters]
Trump has threatened to target Japanese carmakers with high tariffs as part of an effort to reduce trade surpluses with other countries.
Washington believes surpluses are a sign that the US has been mistreated on trade – a theme Trump picked up on after landing in Tokyo on Saturday vowing to make the relationship between the world’s largest and third-largest economies what he described as “a little bit more fair”.
Negotiations are taking place on a bilateral trade agreement but Trump has said he does not expect major progress on it until July, when Abe faces an election for parliament’s upper house.
Trump has spearheaded an expensive trade war with China, a major dispute that has hurt markets worldwide and confounded US allies, including Japan and the European Union.
Washington’s allies, although they share US concerns about Chinese practices, disagree with Trump’s tactics of threatening tariffs on their products rather than seeking cooperation in standing up to Beijing.
In addition to trade, Abe and Trump are expected to discuss North Korea and Iran.
Trump said on Sunday he was not worried about a recent missile launch by North Korea. That put him at odds with his own national security adviser, John Bolton, who said on Saturday that Pyongyang’s recent short-range missile tests violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. Japan shares Bolton’s view.
Also on Monday, Trump will meet the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean decades ago. Abe has urged the US president to raise the issue in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump is in Japan for a four-day state visit and is expected to address troops at a US base in the country on Tuesday.