During a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in June, President Donald Trump claimed to remember the attack which forced the United States into World War II.
First, there is no possible way Trump could “remember” the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, because he didn’t exist. Trump was born on June 14, 1946. But that’s beside the point.
Trump invoking imperial Japan’s aggression, which was ended in 1945, was enormously disrespectful to Abe, whom the Post wrote is a “good friend” of Trump.
Trump has met with Abe eight times, more than with any other counterpart, and talked to him on the phone 26 times.
“The meeting, which left Abe exasperated, epitomized the paradoxical nature of Trump’s closest relationship with a foreign leader,” the Post said.
One aide close to the president said Abe was one of Trump’s favorite world leaders. “I’ve never heard him [trash]-talk Abe. And you can’t say that about a lot of the world leaders,” one official said.
Trump and Abe were discussing the trade deficit between the United States and Japan, which has become a sticking point in the delicate relationship between the two nations.
Japan remains the only “major U.S. ally” not exempted from Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. Japanese officials are also concerned that their country could be slapped with additional automobile tariffs, which Trump has threatened to impose on international manufacturers. Doing so would deal a large blow to Japan, whose auto industry “is closely linked to the national psyche.”
The Japanese Prime Minister has also been frustrated with Trump’s approach to North Korea, reports say, in large part because of Trump’s decision to suspend military exercises with South Korea. Trump ordered these drills to be paused ahead of his June summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Abe repeatedly advised Trump not to halt military exercises with South Korea or entertain an agreement to formally end the Korean War until North Korea takes concrete steps to denuclearize,” the Post said.
“Abe was completely ignored,” said a person close to the Japanese Prime Minister. “His lieutenants are resigned to Trump now being uncontrollable by Jim Mattis or John Kelly and think John Bolton has even more limited influence.”
“Abe hoped his relationship with Trump would translate into strong bilateral relations. But on both the security and economic fronts, he has faced major setbacks,” Shihoko Goto, a Japan expert at the Washington think tank Wilson Center, said.
According to the Post, one Japanese diplomat said that Abe often waits for Trump to erupt during a debate in order to know how to respond. “He understands if he categorically denies what the president says, it might hurt the president’s pride,” the official said.
Goto said Trump likes to make arbitrary historical references about Japan, like its “samurai past.” Goto added that Trump’s Pearl Harbor comment is a projection of his internalized, albeit outdated, perception of Asia.
“Although disturbing, this rhetoric hardly veers from Trump’s comments against Japan on the campaign trail,” said Goto. “His views of the Japanese economy then were based on the perceptions of the 1980s and ’90s, rather than the realities of today. So it may not be a surprise if his worldview, especially of Asia, is derived back from World War II, rather than today.”
Despite the drama, however, the Post wrote that officials “on both sides of the Pacific say that the foundations of the U.S.-Japan relationship remain strong and that Abe speaks with Trump more easily and frequently than he did with President Obama.”