TOKYO (AP) — With a round of golf, a custom cap and a hamburger of American beef, President Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia began with a taste of home.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed Trump to Japan Sunday with an effusive display of friendship that, in the days ahead, will give way to high-stakes diplomacy. The two leaders, who have struck up an unlikely but easy rapport, shared a casual lunch and played nine holes at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, joined by professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama.
The low-key agenda was a prelude to the formal talks, a press conference and state dinner planned in Tokyo Monday. Abe will be looking for a united front against North Korea and reassurances that the U.S. will stand by its treaty obligations to defend Japan if attacked.
Eager to forge a bond with Tokyo’s crucial ally, Abe was one of the first world leaders to court President-elect Trump. He was the first to call Trump after the election, and rushed to New York days later to meet the president-elect and present him with a pricey, gold Honma golf driver. The two men also met on the sidelines of an international summit in Italy this spring and Trump hosted Abe in Florida. White House officials said Trump has spoken with Abe by phone more than any world leader, aside from British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Playing golf with Prime Minister Abe and Hideki Matsuyama, two wonderful people! pic.twitter.com/vYLULe0o2K
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2017
That bond was clear on Sunday.
“The relationship is really extraordinary. We like each other and our countries like each other,” Trump said Sunday night before dinner with Abe, who for this meal did show Trump traditional cuisine with a teppanyaki dinner. “And I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Japan than we are right now.”
Trump and Abe also exchanged glowing tweets about their golf. Trump dubbed Abe and Matsuyama “wonderful people,” while Abe called it a “round of golf with a marvelous friend.”
Abe told reporters after the golf session that the two could talk frankly in a relaxed atmosphere while out on the course. He said they were able to “carry out in depth discussion, at times touching on various difficult issues.” A senior White House official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said the pair had discussed trade and North Korea — but didn’t keep score.
From the time Marine One landed on the Kasumigaseki Country Club’s driving range, Abe rolled out little touches to make Trump feel welcome. He presented a hat that had a version of Trump’s campaign theme, this time reading “Donald and Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.” The two passed up the region’s famed Kobe beef in favor of the American version, which is favored by Trump, a famed picky eater.
When Trump hosted Abe in Palm Beach earlier this year, they played at one of Trump’s Florida golf courses. For that outing, Trump brought along pro golfer Ernie Els, so this time Abe matched him by bringing along Matsuyama, whom Trump described on the plane ride to Asia as “probably the greatest player in the history of Japan.” Abe was behind the wheel of a golf cart as the two men were spotted moving from hole to hole, Trump in the passenger seat smiling and waving at those they passed.