Sumo diplomacy: Japan’s PM courts Trump with wrestling, burgers and golf

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continued his US charm offensive today, courting US President Donald Trump with three things close to his heart: wrestling matches, burgers and golf.

Call it sumo diplomacy.

Mr Trump’s four-day state visit to Japan is designed to demonstrate the strength of the bond between the nations.

The president received a warm welcome as he arrived at Mobara Country Club, south of Tokyo, for a morning round of golf with the Japanese leader. It was their fifth golf outing.

US President Donald Trump, rides in a golf cart with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mobara Country Club near Tokyo (Ren Onuma/Kyodo News/AP)
US President Donald Trump, rides in a golf cart with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mobara Country Club near Tokyo (Ren Onuma/Kyodo News/AP)

Mr Abe is pulling out all the stops as he seeks to placate Mr Trump amid growing US-Japan trade tensions and the threat of tariffs on cars.

Japan is also contending with the continued threat of North Korea and Mr Trump’s apparent dismissal of Pyongyang’s recent tests of short-range missiles that could reach Japan.

But, apart from several antagonistic tweets, Sunday was all about bromance and keeping Mr Trump happy.

First it was the golf course, where the two leaders played 16 holes, joined by Japanese professional golfer Isao Aoki.

Donald Trump takes a swing during a round of  golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Ren Onuma/Kyodo News/AP)
Donald Trump takes a swing during a round of golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Ren Onuma/Kyodo News/AP)

Aoki, who is famous for his putting technique, was expected to present Mr Trump with a putter he designed.

Japanese officials said Mr Trump and Mr Abe also had breakfast and lunch together. On the menu for lunch were double cheeseburgers made with US beef.

Later in the day, Mr Abe will introduce his guest to Japan’s ancient sport of sumo wrestling — a sport he has said he finds “fascinating”.

He will have a ringside seat at a premier match in Tokyo featuring the oversized athletes and will present the winner with his own President’s Cup trophy, which the White House displayed in the fancy hotel where Mr Trump is staying throughout the afternoon.

A trophy to be presented by Donald Trump to the winner of the sumo wrestling tournament (Evan Vucci/AP)
A trophy to be presented by Donald Trump to the winner of the sumo wrestling tournament (Evan Vucci/AP)

The leaders will later venture into Tokyo for a dinner date with their wives, who also get on well together.

On Monday, Mr Trump will receive the honour of being the first foreign leader to meet Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, since he ascended to the throne on May 1.

The US president and Mr Abe will also meet in a more formal setting and participate in a joint news conference.

In the evening, Mr Trump will be guest of honour at a banquet hosted by the emperor at Japan’s Imperial Palace.

It is all part of a charm offensive that began before Mr Trump took office, when Mr Abe rushed to New York to greet the president-elect at Trump Tower.

Japan is deeply dependent on the US for security and Mr Abe has tried to encourage Mr Trump to maintain international agreements and keep up pressure on North Korea.

Golf, in particular, has been a bonding tool for the leaders, who share a love of the game.

“We were able to exchange our views frankly in a cosy atmosphere. It was wonderful,” Mr Abe told reporters as he returned to his official residence at midday.

He told reporters as he left for Mobara that Sunday’s weather was great for golf and “it seems we are in a good mood for sumo”.

He later posted a selfie photo of him and Mr Trump, smiling widely on the greens.

Mr Trump tweeted that he had “Great fun and meeting with Prime Minister @AbeShinzo”, but also continued to stew about domestic politics, claiming that “Numerous Japanese officials told me that the Democrats would rather see the United States fail than see me or the Republican Party succeed – Death Wish!”

There has long been a tradition of American presidents and candidates holding their tongues about rivals while on foreign soil — but Mr Trump is not one to abide by such norms.

Earlier, Mr Trump had gone after one of his potential Democratic rivals, Joe Biden, saying he had smiled when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse”.

He also played down North Korea’s recent series of short-range missile tests. He tweeted that the tests were not a concern for him — even though they certainly are for Japan, due to the country’s proximity to the North.

Two police officers stand guard outside the national sumo stadium (Jae C Hong/AP)
Two police officers stand guard outside the national sumo stadium (Jae C Hong/AP)

“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Mr Trump wrote in a message that appeared to undermine his national security adviser, John Bolton, who told reporters on Saturday that the tests violated UN Security Council resolutions.

The president’s attendance at the annual summer sumo tournament in Tokyo may bring back memories of the time he spent promoting the World Wrestling Federation.

Mr Trump sponsored major events, appeared in bits, and was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2013.

He is expected to sit ringside as the oversized men in loincloths grapple to win by pushing their opponents out of bounds or getting them to touch the floor with their body, except for the soles of their feet.

The president also sought to manage expectations that he and Mr Abe will make significant headway on trade issues when they hold more formal talks on Monday.

Mr Trump has been seeking a bilateral trade agreement with Tokyo since he pulled the US out of the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement two years ago, though analysts expect no breakthroughs during his visit.

“Great progress being made in our Trade Negotiations with Japan. Agriculture and beef heavily in play. Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers!” he wrote, referring to Japan’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

Mr Trump had told business leaders after arriving in Tokyo on Saturday evening that the US and Japan were “hard at work” negotiating a new bilateral trade agreement that he said would benefit both countries.

“With this deal we hope to address the trade imbalance, remove barriers to United States exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship. And we’re getting closer,” he said.

The Trump administration has been threatening Japan with new tariffs on imports of cars and car parts on national security grounds.

The president has suggested he will impose tariffs if the US cannot wrest concessions from Japan and the European Union.

In April, Japan’s trade surplus surged almost 18% to 723 billion yen.

- Press Association

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