Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe tee off amid US-Japan trade tensions

Golf never seems to be far behind whenever President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe get together.

It was the fifth time that Trump and Abe played golf since the US president took office [Reuters]

So on Sunday, during a four-day state visit to Japan, the US president jumped aboard the Marine One helicopter in Tokyo and flew south to the Mobara Country Club for a steamy morning round with the Japanese leader.

Abe is Trump’s closest friend among world leaders and it’s the fifth time they played golf together since Trump took office, said The Associated Press.

Trump tweeted that he was “Going to play golf right now with @AbeShinzo. Japan loves the game.” Abe also posted a selfie photo on Twitter of him and Trump, smiling widely on the greens.

Trade imbalance

Abe’s strategy is to keep his country out of Trump’s crosshairs amid US-Japan trade tensions and the continued threat North Korea poses to both nations.

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 Trump’s 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.

Reporting from Tokyo, Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay said, “It seems certain that trade will be discussed. However, we are not expecting any significant announcement over the next few days.”

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 autos and auto parts on national security grounds. Trump has suggested he will impose tariffs if the US can’t wrest concessions from Japan and the European Union.

In April, Japan’s trade surplus surged almost 18 percent to $6.6bn.

North Korea’s missile tests

At the golf course, Trump ignored a shouted question from a US reporter about whether he believed North Korea had violated UN Security Council resolutions.

Earlier, Trump downplayed North Korea’s recent series of short-range missile tests. He tweeted that the tests weren’t a concern for him – even though they most certainly are for Japan, due to the country’s proximity to the North.

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

Trump said he “has confidence” that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “will keep his promise to me.”

“They [Trump and Abe] will also discuss North Korea, particularly given the two missile tests Pyongyang conducted earlier this month,” Al Jazeera’s Hay said.

The US president arrived in Japan on Saturday with his wife, first lady Melania Trump, to open the four-day visit.

On Monday, Trump will become the first head of state to meet Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, since he ascended to the throne on May 1.

Trump is slated to head for Washington on Tuesday after he addresses US sailors aboard the USS Wasp, stationed at Yokosuka.

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