Trump presses Japan over trade gap, expects ‘good things’ from North Korea

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pressed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to even out a trade imbalance with the United States and said he was happy with how things were going with North Korea but was in no rush to reach a peace deal.

Trump said at a news conference with Abe after their summit that his goal was to remove trade barriers to put U.S. exports on a fair footing in Japan. He said he hoped to have more to announce on trade very soon and said he and Abe had agreed to expand cooperation in human space exploration.

“We have an unbelievably large imbalance, as you know, trade imbalance with Japan for many, many years, Japan having the big advantage,” Trump said.

“They are brilliant business people, brilliant negotiators, and put us in a very tough spot. But I think we will have a deal with Japan,” he added.

Abe, for his part, said the two leaders had agreed to speed up two-way trade talks, but dodged a question about timing.

Trump, who is on a four-day state visit to Japan meant to showcase the alliance between the allies, said on Twitter on Sunday that he expected big moves on trade would wait until after Japan’s upper house election in July.

“Trade-wise, I think we’ll be announcing some things, probably in August, that will be very good for both countries,” Trump said on Monday at the start of the talks. “We’ll get the balance of trade, I think, straightened out rapidly.”

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters there was no agreement to reach a trade deal by August.

Abe, who has developed a warm relationship with Trump since the U.S. leader came to office, stressed the closeness of ties.

“This visit of President Trump and Madame Trump is a golden opportunity to clearly show the unshakable bond to the whole world and inside Japan as well,” Abe told the news conference.

Earlier, Trump was greeted by Emperor Naruhito and his Harvard-educated wife at the imperial palace in Tokyo in a formal welcome ceremony broadcast live on national television.

Trump is the first foreign dignitary to be received by the monarch since the latter inherited the throne after his father, Akihito, stepped down on April 30 in the first abdication by a Japanese emperor in two centuries.

Trump has made clear he was pleased to have the honor of the first reception with the emperor, who is hosting a state dinner for the U.S. leader and his wife on Monday.

On Sunday, Trump spent what he said was “an incredible evening” watching the Japanese national sport of sumo – where nearly naked wrestlers grapple on a raised sand ring – after he and Abe had bonded over hamburgers and golf.

FRIENDSHIP AND FRICTION

Abe and Trump have put on a show of friendship but have policy disagreements over trade and North Korea.

Trump has threatened to target Japanese automakers with high tariffs.

He has also spearheaded an expensive trade dispute with China. That trade war between the world’s two largest economies has hurt markets worldwide and confounded U.S. allies, including Japan and the European Union, although those allies share U.S. concerns about Chinese practices.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a news conference, at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump told the news conference that Washington was not ready to make a deal with Beijing but he expected on in the future.

“I believe that we will have a very good deal with China sometime in the future. Because I don’t believe that China can continue to pay these really hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs,” he said.

“You know businesses are leaving China, by the hundreds, by the thousands, and going into areas that are not tariffed.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing that China’s stance was consistent: all disputes should be resolved through negotiations and China-U.S. consultations “must be based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit”.

Trump also expressed optimism over prospects that North Korea would give up its nuclear program, and repeated that he was not bothered by its recent missile tests.

“My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently – I view it as a man, perhaps he wants to get attention. Perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. All I know is that there have been no nuclear tests, no ballistic missiles going out, no long-range missiles going out. And I think that someday we’ll have a deal,” Trump said.

“I’m not in a rush,” he added.

Trump also said he agreed with Kim that former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who has been critical of North Korea and is now campaigning to become the Democratic Party candidate for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, was a “low IQ individual”.

Abe said he supported Trump’s approach to Kim, but repeated Japan’s stance that recent short-range missile tests violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The two leaders also discussed Iran. Japanese media have said Abe was considering a trip there next month, to try to soothe rising tension between Iran and the United States.

Slideshow (22 Images)

Also on Monday, Trump met families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea and told the relatives that he would work with Abe to bring the abductees home.

In 2002, North Korea admitted its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese decades ago. Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated. North Korea has said eight are dead and that another four never entered the country.

Abe has vowed not to rest until all the abductees come home.

Additional reporting by Malcolm Foster, Elaine Lies, Tim Kelly and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Jeff Mason and Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel

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