Ahead of Trump’s visit to Asia, there were understandable concerns that a diplomatic snafu was imminent. Those concerns were partially justified after a report from Japan Times according to which Trump said Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over the country before landing in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year. The Japanese publications cited sources who claim that Trump questioned Japan’s decision not to shoot down the missiles when he met or spoke by phone with leaders from Southeast Asian countries over recent months to discuss how to respond to the threats from North Korea.
After North Korea launched ballistic missile tests on both August 29 and September 15 which flew over Hokkaido and landed in the Pacific Ocean, Trump was reportedly confused: “The U.S. president said he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles“, the sources said.
As Japan Times adds, “the Self-Defense Forces did not try to intercept the missiles, with the government saying the SDF had monitored the rockets from launch and judged they would not land on Japanese territory”
Furthermore, the altitude and speed of the missiles would have made it very difficult to destroy them in flight, while failure would have been embarrassing for Japan and encouraging to North Korea. Defense Ministry officials confirmed this view and said there were also legal issues to clear.
Had Japan shot down the missile, it could have faced serious ramifications, such as a military response from North Korea as The Hill correctly observes. Trying and failing to shoot down the missile also could have had consequences. Shortly after the August test by North Korea, a U.S. warship successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile in a test launch off the coast of Hawaii.
Separately, during his speech upon arriving in Japan, Trump provoked more diplomatic squirming when he delivered a not-so-veiled threat to North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, which however some interpreted as an unpleasant reminder of Japan’s militant past, when he warned the world, namely dictators, not to underestimate “America’s resolve” in a speech at Yokota Air Base on Sunday. Trump touted American military strength in a speech at the United States Air Force base near Tokyo in the first leg of his Asian tour.
“No one, no dictator, no regime, and no nation should underestimate ever American resolve,” the president said. “Every once in a while in the past they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them. Was it? It was not pleasant.” The warning to North Korea, which some Japanese analysts saw as a not so thinly veiled reference to Japan actions in World War II can be heard 10:40 into the clip below:
“We will never yield. Never waiver, and never falter in defense of our people, our freedom, and our great American flag” Trump continued. “We dominate the sky. We dominate the sea. We dominate the land and space. Not merely because we have the best equipment, which we do, and by the way, a lot of it is coming in. You saw the budget. That’s a lot different than the past. A lot of beautiful brand new equipment is coming in. And nobody makes it like they make it in the United States. Nobody,” Trump told troops in an airplane hangar. “As long as I am president, the servicemen and women who defend our nation will have the equipment, the resources, and the funding they need to secure our homeland, to respond to our enemies quickly and decisively, and when necessary, to fight, to overpower, and to always, always, always win,” Trump promised.
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Still, despite the potential diplomatic flaps, the meeting between Trump and Abe passed largely without a glitch, with Japan’s Prime Minister lavishing Trump with a welcome reserved for formal state guests during his visit to Japan, looking to use hospitality to highlight close ties with its powerful ally.
According to the Nikkei, Abe and his wife Akie on Sunday treated Trump and first lady Melania to a dinner featuring Ise lobster and wagyu beef at a high-end teppanyaki, or table grilling, restaurant in Tokyo’s ritzy Ginza district. This was the first of four meals the leaders will eat together in just two days. Trump also kicked off his visit with a round of golf with Abe and Japanese professional player Hideki Matsuyama.
Playing golf with Prime Minister Abe and Hideki Matsuyama, two wonderful people! pic.twitter.com/vYLULe0o2K
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2017
The president is also slated to meet with the prime minister at the State Guest House, and a meeting with Emperor Akihito is on the agenda as well.
Trump is in Japan for an official working visit, which ranks behind state and official visits in terms of formality. Tokyo decided against the state guest designation given that this is just one leg in a longer tour of Asia, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
State visits in Japan are customarily limited to just one or two per year, with only one a decade from any given country. Japan just received a state guest from the U.S. in April 2014 — then-President Barack Obama. But Trump is receiving treatment on a par with a state guest. “It’s pretty unusual for the prime minister to give a guest such constant attention — even the U.S. president,” a Japanese government source observed. Abe joined Obama for two dinners during the 2014 trip, but the two ate lunch separately.
A top Foreign Ministry official noted the contrast between Obama’s “businesslike” visit and the treatment offered to Trump. “Showing Trump hospitality is the main focus this time,” the official said. Tokyo hopes to showcase the strong U.S.-Japan alliance to not only Asia — amid mounting tensions with North Korea — but the international community as a whole.