Japan’s prime minister has voiced confidence in Donald Trump’s leadership after becoming the first foreign leader to meet the US president-elect.
Thursday’s meeting at the Trump Tower in New York City came amid nervousness among Japan’s leaders about the future strength of an alliance that is core to the country’s diplomacy and security.
After the 90-minute conversation, Shinzo Abe said: “The talks made me feel sure that we can build a relationship of trust.”
But he would not disclose specifics of the conversation because the talks were unofficial.
Abe and other Asian leaders were alarmed at Trump’s pledge during his campaign to make allies pay more for help from US forces, his suggestion that Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons and his staunch opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Describing his conversation as “candid” and held in a “warm atmosphere”, Abe said: “Alliances cannot function without trust. I am now confident that President-elect Trump is a trustworthy leader.”
Kellyanne Conway, a Trump confidante, said earlier on Thursday in an interview with CBS that “any deeper conversations about policy and the relationship between Japan and the US will have to wait until after the inauguration”.
Trump, the Republican Party’s victorious presidential candidate, will succeed President Barack Obama on January 20.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from New York City, said that although no details were given of the discussion between the two leaders, the possibilities were that the meeting was about trade, diplomacy and security.
“Donald Trump has run a very unconventional campaign and is running his transition in a very unconventional way as well. Normally such meetings are held after the president-elect assumes the presidency,” he said.
“Trump was critical about Japan during his campaign about trade issues, saying that the country was a trade rival and suggesting that US could potentially pull out troops from Japan. So there could have been a lot of discussions in the meeting.”
Japan’s media had dubbed Trump the “King of verbal abuse” during his election campaign, which was dogged by accusations of racism, misogyny and sexual assault.
Trump prompted anxiety in Tokyo when he repeatedly said that Japan, which hosts several US military bases, should pay more for its protection, especially amid rising nuclear threats from North Korea and growing Chinese military might.
He also suggested that Japan may want to pursue the acquisition of nuclear weapons, a deeply sensitive issue in Japan, which is the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack.
In addition, Japanese business leaders are wary of Trump’s protectionist stance after he promised to reduce imports into the US and support more manufacturing at home.