Trump’s trip to Japan will not touch on trade issues, will be largely ceremonial.
The weather was delightfully sunny today as President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump departed for their second trip to Japan in the space of a month. Outstanding trade disputes, centered around automobile tariffs, mean both countries are eager for a new resolution on trade. This trip, however, is unlikely to yield progress on that front, and will instead be largely ceremonial.
Once in Japan, the president, a long-time wrestling fan, is expected to attend a sumo match—and to deliver the “Trump Cup” to the winner. Trump is a golf fan too, a trait he shares with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; the two are expected to play together Saturday afternoon.
Trump will also visit the recently ascended Emperor Naruhito, making him the first foreign leader to meet the new ruler. Japan has, for the first time in over 200 years, entered a new era, moving from the Heisei to the Reiwa. Of the transition, Trump said on Thursday: “it’s a very big thing going on with the emperor.”
Another focus of the trip will be a survey of Japan’s expanded military. Over the past decade, Japan has been pushing back against constitutional prohibitions on military size, and Trump is expected to visit a naval base.
Bilateral meetings in Japan
Bilateral meetings between Trump and Prime Minister Abe’s teams will take place Monday, the penultimate day of trip. These meetings will touch on the trade issues between the two nations.
Trump, last Friday, declared that some foreign vehicles pose a threat to U.S. national security, an unprecedented position which carries with it the threat of increased tariffs. If imposed, Trump suggested tariffs on foreign vehicles could rise as high as 25%.
25%, interestingly, was a proposed tariff on U.S. truck imports to Japan under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), according to a report from the Democrat-controlled Ways and Means Committee. Trump withdrew from the TPP, another source of strain in U.S./Japan relations, and his new proposed tariffs on foreign car imports may be an intentional reversal of the pro-free-trade TPP position, in line with his “America First” doctrine.
Despite this context, a senior administration official emphasized that trade was not the focus of the trip. Though the official acknowledged, “there will be substantive things to announce,” it is meeting the Their Majesties, the Emperor and his wife, which is “really the heart of the visit.”
Whatever the outcome of this trip, Trump will be returning to Japan again in late June, for the G20 summit in Osaka.