President Donald Trump opened a state visit to Japan by goading the American ally on his trade imbalance with the United States.
“Maybe that’s why you love me so much,” he joked.
Mr. Trump also promoted the United States under his leadership, saying that “there has never been a better time” to invest or do business in America, and he urged business leaders to to come.
The president’s first event after arriving in Tokyo was a reception with several dozen Japanese and American business leaders at the residence of the American ambassador.
He said the two countries are “working hard” to negotiate a trade deal.
“I would say Japan has had a substantial advantage for many, many years, but that’s okay,” Trump said, joking that “maybe that’s why you love me so much.”
His comments underscored the competing dynamic of a state visit designed to showcase the long-standing US-Japan alliance and close friendship between Mr. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, even as trade tensions run high.
Mr Trump landed from his night flight shortly after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck just south of Tokyo and rocked the city.
It is part of Mr Abe’s charming strategy which some analysts say has spared Japan all the brunt of Mr Trump’s commercial anger.
Mr Abe and Mr Trump were planning to play golf on Sunday before Mr Abe gave Mr Trump the chance to present his President’s Cup trophy to the winner of a sumo wrestling championship match.
The White House said the trophy was nearly five feet tall and weighed between 60 and 70 pounds.
On Monday, Mr. Trump will become the first head of state to meet with Emperor Naruhito since taking the throne this month.
“Along with every country in the world, I am the guest of honor at the biggest event they have hosted in over 200 years,” Trump said ahead of the trip.
The president is threatening Japan with potentially devastating U.S. tariffs on foreign cars and parts.
He suggested he would go ahead with trade sanctions if US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer failed to secure concessions from Japan and the European Union.
But that is unlikely given that the two sides are still figuring out the parameters of what they will negotiate.
He nevertheless presented the negotiations in a positive light in his remarks to the group of companies.
“With this agreement, we hope to redress the trade imbalance, remove barriers to US exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship. And we are getting closer, ”Mr. Trump said.
He also urged business leaders to invest more in the United States.
He praised the “very special” American-Japanese alliance which he said “has never been stronger, it has never been so powerful, has never been so close”.
Mr Abe rushed to New York two weeks after the election to meet with the president-elect at Trump Tower.
Last month, Mr. Abe and his wife, Akie, celebrated First Lady Melania Trump’s birthday at a White House dinner.
Mr Abe and Mr Trump are set to meet for the third time in three months when Mr Trump returns to Japan at the end of June for a summit of major rich and developing countries.
Behind the smiles and personal friendship, however, there is deep unease over Mr. Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Japanese cars and auto parts for national security reasons.
Mr. Trump recently agreed to a six-month deadline, enough time to lead Mr. Abe to the Japanese parliamentary elections in July.
Also at issue is the lingering threat from North Korea, which has resumed missile testing and recently fired a series of short-range missiles that US officials, including Mr. Trump, have tried to downplay despite a deal from the North. to delay further testing.
Mr. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters on Saturday before Mr. Trump arrived that short-range missile testing violated UN Security Council resolutions and that the sanctions were to remain in place.
Mr. Bolton said Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe would “talk about ensuring that the integrity of Security Council resolutions is maintained.”
This marked a change of tone from the point of view expressed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent television interview.
He said that “the moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States.”
This has sounded the alarm in Japan, where short-range missiles pose a serious threat.
Mr Bolton commented a day after North Korea’s official media said nuclear talks with Washington would only resume if the US abandons what the North has described as demands for unilateral disarmament.