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Trump woos Japanese investors

US president has warm relations with Abe but is pushing to trim Japan's trade surplus

US President Donald and Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty gesture to the audience of business leaders in Tokyo on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

TOKYO: US President Donald Trump urged Japanese business leaders on Saturday to increase their investment in the United States, while saying that Japan had a substantial edge on trade that negotiators were trying to even out.

Trump arrived in Japan on Saturday for a largely ceremonial visit meant to showcase strong ties with Tokyo even as trade tensions loom. He told the group of top business executives there had never been a better time to invest in the United States.

He said he hoped to address the trade imbalance between the United States and Japan and ensure fairness and reciprocity.

“Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years, but that’s okay, maybe that’s why you like us so much,” he said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will treat Trump to an imperial banquet and front-row seats at a sumo tournament during the trip, which lasts through Tuesday.

The two men share a warm relationship, which the Japanese leader aims to emphasise as Washington considers tariffs on Japanese auto exports that the Trump administration views as a potential national security threat.

The United States is in the middle of an expensive trade war with China in protest against Beijing’s treatment of US companies, and tensions with Japan and the European Union over trade are simmering.

Trump and Abe are expected to discuss trade during talks on Monday, but officials have played down the possibility of a deal during the visit.

Trump will become the first foreign leader to be received by new Japanese Emperor Naruhito since he inherited the throne earlier this month.

The president made clear during an impromptu news conference on Thursday that he was flattered by the invitation.

“Prime Minister Abe said to me, very specifically, ‘You are the guest of honour.’ There’s only one guest of honour. … I’m the guest of honour at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years,” Trump said.

“So it’s a great thing. And we get along very well with Japan. I get along very well with the prime minister.”

On Sunday, Trump and Abe are expected to play golf and attend a sumo match. On Monday, they will discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in addition to trade.

Japanese and US trade chiefs also met on Saturday in an attempt to advance talks on a bilateral deal.

The latest round of negotiations between Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s minister for economic and fiscal policy, and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Tokyo is unlikely to yield a breakthrough, however, as the countries remain at odds over tariffs on agricultural and industrial products.

At the outset of the talks, Motegi welcomed Lighthizer to his office and showed off a jersey of the American football team the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“This is a symbol of my desire to revitalise the Rust Belt,” said Motegi, who is in charge of dealing with trade issues with the United States, in an apparent gesture of his hope for a deal that would benefit both Japanese and US businesses.

Hours before Trump’s arrival, a medium-strength earthquake hit eastern Japan, causing buildings to shake in Tokyo.

The epicentre was southern Chiba, southeast of the capital, the prefecture where Trump is due to play golf on Sunday.

No tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage.

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