President Trump arrived in South Korea, the second stop on a five-nation Asia tour, after a visit to Japan in which he called on Tokyo to buy U.S. antimissile batteries both to counter the growing ballistic missile threat from North Korea and to create more jobs for Americans.
Trump, speaking of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Abe stood beside him at a news conference, told reporters, “He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of a lot of military equipment from the United States.”
Trump pointedly teased Abe over the trade deficit between their two countries, and seemed to advocate a military buildup as a way to close the gap.
“It’s a lot of jobs for us, and a lot of safety for Japan, and other countries that are likewise purchasing military equipment from us,” Trump said. At another point, he complimented the Japanese economy, but said: “I don’t know if it’s as good as ours. I think not. OK? We’re going to try to keep it that way. And you’ll be second.”
Actually, China is the world’s second-largest economy, behind the United States; Japan is third. The Japanese government already buys a lot of U.S. military hardware, Abe said, but he agreed that the country should “enhance our defense capability.”
“Missile defense is something based on cooperation between Japan and the U.S.,” he said. “If it is necessary” to shoot down a missile, “of course we will do that.”
In the run-up to Trump’s visit to Asia, Japanese media reported that the president had told other world leaders he did not understand why Japan, which he reportedly referred to as a country of “samurai warriors,” had not shot down a North Korean missile that flew over the nation’s territory in September. U.S. and Japanese military officials are concerned that North Korea may launch a similar provocation during Trump’s tour of Asia.
Trump landed in South Korea, on North Korea’s doorstep, at midday Tuesday. He immediately went to Camp Humphreys, an expansive U.S. military base built with South Korean help that houses more than 10,000 American soldiers about 40 miles south of Seoul, the capital. There he joined American and Korean soldiers for lunch.
Also there was South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He and Trump are to discuss trade and ways to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program — the same topics that topped his agenda in Japan, and will do so at his third stop, China, later this week.
Moon, who was elected on promises to reach out to North Korea, but who has taken a harder line in recent months in response to Pyongyang’s provocations, is scheduled to hold a joint news conference with Trump on Tuesday afternoon. He also will host the American president for a state dinner at the Blue House, the presidential mansion in Seoul.
Before Trump left Japan, he and Abe, who golfed together after Trump’s arrival in Japan over the weekend, spent the second day of the president’s visit in Tokyo having lunch, feeding fish in a koi pond and engaging in lengthy talks concerning North Korea and trade.
Trump sounded notably hoarse as he spoke. He is scheduled to visit five countries during the course of his 12-day trip.
“You have a very, very aggressive, tough prime minister. That’s a good thing by the way, not a bad thing,” Trump said of Abe.
Abe endorsed Trump’s skepticism of talks with North Korea.
“For more than 20 some years, the international community attempted dialogue with North Korea,” he said. “Now is the time not for dialogue but for applying a maximum level of pressure on North Korea.”
The two also met with families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, some of whom were kidnapped when they were children.
“No child should ever be subjected to such cruelty,” Trump said.
Trump called on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to return Japanese citizens Pyongyang has abducted, saying that doing so would be “a tremendous signal” and the “start of something very special.”
Abe has carefully cultivated a friendly relationship with Trump. At a lavish dinner thrown in his honor, the president told the story of how the two leaders first met one year ago, after the election but before Trump became president.
The relationship got off to “quite a rocky start,” he recalled, because he agreed to meet with the Japanese leader while Barack Obama was still president, bucking a long-standing tradition of presidents-elect staying out of foreign policy matters before being sworn in.
When Abe called to congratulate Trump on his election victory, Trump told Abe to come see him any time he wanted, thinking Abe wouldn’t do so until after the inauguration. But Trump said Abe was persistent and got on a plane to New York.
Some on Trump’s staff, including Hope Hicks and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now the White House communications director and press secretary, respectively, told Trump to cancel the meeting, the president recalled.
But it was too late, Trump said, Abe was already in the air.
“There’s no way he’s going to land and I’m not going to see him,” Trump said.
Abe came to Trump Tower and brought Trump a $3,000 driver with a gold-colored head.
It is the “most beautiful golf club,” Trump said, “and the most beautiful weapon I’ve ever seen, so I thank you for that.” He added, however, that if he ever actually used it for a round of golf, he would be “laughed off” the course.
From that moment on, Trump said, “we developed a really great relationship.”
9:10 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect Trump’s arrival in South Korea from Japan.
8:00 a.m.: This article was updated with information on Trump’s schedule for the South Korea leg of his trip.
The article was initially published at 5:35 a.m.