Trump and Abe retreat to Florida for golf diplomacy

Trump and Abe retreat to Florida for golf diplomacy

WEST PALM BEACH, US - Agence France-Presse
Trump and Abe retreat to Florida for golf diplomacy

AFP photo

After reportedly hitting it off in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe played golf before ending the day with an impromptu news conference on North Korea’s missile test.

As part of a two-day visit that began in Washington, Abe and Trump jetted to the U.S. president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida together on Feb. 10 aboard Air Force One for more diplomatic talks and a round of golf at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.

Trump tweeted a photograph in which he is wearing a white baseball cap and polo shirt, high-fiving the Japanese leader who is dressed in white pants and a navy blue cap.

“Having a great time hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the United States!” Trump commented.

In a subsequent statement on Feb. 11, the White House said Trump “enjoyed hosting Prime Minister Abe on the golf course today, which was both relaxing and productive.”

“They had great conversations on a wide range of subjects, and the president looks forward to further discussions with the prime minister at dinner this evening.”

Feb. 11’s evening schedule took an unexpected turn after North Korea fired a ballistic missile that flew about 500 kilometers east before falling into the Sea of Japan, according to the South Korean defense ministry.

Trump and Abe appeared at a hastily arranged press conference, with the U.S. president saying simply: “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”

He did not elaborate.

Abe denounced the launch, which came in defiance of U.N. resolutions, as “absolutely intolerable.”

The temperamental Trump was on the charm offensive Feb. 10 when he greeted the Japanese leader with an affectionate hug, dropping his previous harsh rhetoric towards Tokyo and ensuring America’s commitment to Japan’s security.

Abe, who has emphasized that his golf skills are not on a par with the billionaire Republican’s, welcomed the opportunity to “take time to talk with Donald about the future of the world and the future of the region.”

The Japanese prime minister has spent more time with Trump than any foreign leader since the reality TV host’s election, as world powers grapple with how to engage with the mercurial American president who conducts some of his diplomacy via Twitter.

Abe’s work-and-play date with Trump evokes a similar outing made by the Japanese leader’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who more than half-a-century ago sported a polo and hit the links with former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower.

Trump has dramatically shifted his stance on Asia in recent days, after campaigning on an “America first” platform and expressing a willingness to toss out existing agreements and relationships.

Late on Feb. 9, he reaffirmed Washington’s “One China” policy -- a decades-old position that effectively acknowledges that Taiwan is not separate from China -- in what he called an “extremely cordial” phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The vow to “honor” the diplomatic code represented a 180-degree turn for Trump, who had suggested the matter was up for negotiation and could form part of talks on trade, eliciting Chinese ire.

Early on Feb. 10, Trump also signaled to Abe that his administration would work to cement U.S.-Japanese relations.

The leaders were both looking to mend ties that were strained by Trump’s rejection of a trans-Pacific trade deal and his readiness to question U.S. defense commitments.

“The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep,” he said. “This administration is committed to bringing those ties even closer.”

Trump also pleased Tokyo when he said in a statement that the United States would defend Japan if China were to seize the disputed Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.

U.S. First Lady Melania Trump and Abe’s wife Akie meanwhile toured a Japanese culture museum and garden complex in Florida where they saw a bonsai exhibition and fed koi fish.