President Trump and first lady Melania Trump landed in Japan on Saturday, kicking off a highly anticipated state visit — with the president to become the first foreign leader to meet Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito.
The trip, which will last through Tuesday, comes amid fears among Japanese political and business leaders that U.S. tariffs on the auto industry will have a crippling effect on the Asian nation’s economy.
The president’s first stop was a dinner with business leaders at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Tokyo after a brief airport welcome.
Trump told reporters that he’s working to introduce “fairness and reciprocity” in the new American-Japanese trade agreement.
“Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years but that’s OK,” Trump said during remarks with the business leaders in Tokyo, noting that negotiators were “hard at work” on the trade talks. “We’ll get it a little bit more fair.”
“Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years but that’s ok. We’ll get it a little bit more fair.”
He added that the new trade deal will “address the trade imbalance” and eliminate the existing “barriers to U.S. exports.”
Japan enjoys a $70 billion trade surplus with the U.S, while it imports just a fraction of U.S. goods and imposes protective measures against competition from other countries, a source of frustration for Trump, who sees tariffs as a corrective measure.
Japan is expected to use the state visit as a charm offensive to convince Trump to spare the country of the punitive tariffs.
To fulfill this task, Trump is officially the first foreign leader invited to meet with the country’s new Emperor Naruhito, who inherited the throne earlier this month, a fact Trump gleefully acknowledged earlier this week. The emperor will treat Trump to a meeting and host an imperial banquet in Trump’s honor.
“Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe said to me, very specifically, ‘You are the guest of honor.’ There’s only one guest of honor … I’m the guest of honor at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years,” Trump said this week.
“So it’s a great thing. And we get along very well with Japan. I get along very well with the prime minister.”
During the first remarks in Japan, Trump also stressed that Japan is buying military equipment from the U.S., which he says was a sign of threats in the world.
“We make the best equipment in the world — the best jets, missiles, the best rockets, the best everything,” he said. “So Japan is doing very large orders and we appreciate that.”
“It’s probably appropriate for everything going on,” he added. “The world is changing.”
On Sunday, Trump and Abe are expected to play golf and then watch a sumo wrestling tournament in front-row seats. Trump previously called the sport “fascinating.”
Only on Monday will the two leaders sit down to talk about trade. A possibility of a trade deal is reportedly on the table, but officials on neither side committed to such goal. (Because of the Japan trip, Trump paid a pre-Memorial Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, to honor America’s war dead.)
The U.S. and Japanese leaders will also discuss the threat from North Korea, an issue that comes in the wake of U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s comments on Friday that a series of short-range missile tests by North Korea last month was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
But it remains to be seen whether the celebrations and close relationship between Trump and Abe will be enough to force Washington to reconsider imposing tariffs on Japanese auto exports.
The Trump administration is currently embroiled in a trade war against China over the country’s treatment of American companies.
Yet the administration has been tough and criticized both Japan and the European Union for, in its view, unfair trade practices that exploit the U.S. economy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.