Donald Trump begins Asian trip in Japan, with ketchup, golf and nuclear war on agenda

Donald Trump begins Asian trip in Japan, with ketchup, golf and nuclear war on agenda

Donald Trump begins Asian trip in Japan, with ketchup, golf and nuclear war on agenda

Updated 6 November 2017, 1:50 AEDT

Donald Trump's visit to Japan will obviously focus on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

From high stakes to well done steaks. It says something about the state of the world that the pre-arrival media briefing for Donald Trump's visit to Japan covered possible nuclear war and whether the US President will have ketchup with his beef.

Key points:

  • Japan is the first stop on Trump's 12-day Asian trip
  • Visit includes Wagyu beef and golf with Japanese Prime Minister and world-ranked player Hideki Matsuyama
  • Discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Abe likely to revolve around trade and North Korea

The focus on North Korea's nuclear ambitions is an obvious one.

A Japanese official told reporters the country's famed Wagyu beef would be on Sunday's menu, prompting fears of a culinary gaffe.

In May, Mr Trump shocked the foodie world by ordering his $71 steak cooked "well done" and (gasp) smothering it in tomato sauce.

Asked about the prospect of a similar food snob crime against high-end Wagyu, the Japanese foreign affairs official implied a subtle dance of manners is at play.

"We will prepare ketchup," the official said.

"If President Trump wants to use ketchup, we will provide it."

After a stopover in Hawaii, Japan is the first stop on Mr Trump's 12-day Asian trip.

Air Force One touched down at the US air base at Yokota on Sunday just before 1:00pm (AEDT), and Mr Trump stepped onto the tarmac as a band played Uptown Funk.

Mr Trump and first lady Melania were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd and he was presented with a bomber jacket, which he quickly put on after removing his suit coat.

Mr Trump addressed American service personnel, calling Japan a treasured partner and crucial ally and telling his audience no dictator or regime should ever underestimate American resolve.

"We will never yield, never waver and never falter in defence of our freedom," Mr Trump said.

Golf diplomacy

The first thing on Mr Trump's agenda was a round of golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is riding high after a solid election win two weeks ago.

At Mr Trump's request, they were joined by one of the world's best golfers, Hideki Matsuyama.

Mr Abe said the two leaders had a lively conversation over golf and were able to talk frankly in a relaxed atmosphere while out on the course.

The Japanese Prime Minister said he and Mr Trump were able to "carry out in depth discussion, at times touching on various difficult issues".

Their formal talks Monday are expected to focus on North Korea and other regional and bilateral issues.

"Golf diplomacy" has provided common ground in the past, with Mr Abe gifting Mr Trump an expensive gold-coloured driver in May, and the US leader giving a golf shirt in return.

Mr Trump claims a handicap of 2.8, although Golf Magazine has questioned that, saying that while Mr Trump is a surprisingly good player, a 73 round (as claimed recently) would put him in the league of retired professionals.

The US President has denied allegations — including claims from actor Samuel L Jackson and retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya — that he cheats at golf.

Mr Abe's handicap is unknown but he is thought to average 90-100 over 18 holes, and is known to hold the flag while others putt — a humble act for a man of great power.

Before their game of golf at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, Mr Trump and Mr Abe signed hats that read "Donald & Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater".

The big issues

The conversation on and off the golf course will likely revolve around trade and North Korea, cited by both sides as the main issues for the leaders to discuss.

The Obama-era policy of "strategic patience" has been thrown out the window by Mr Trump, who has bluntly confronted the paranoid regime and hurled insults at "Rocket Man" Kim Jong-un.

North Korea is reportedly getting close to developing a missile that could hit the west coast of the US and shrinking a nuclear device small enough to go into that missile — raising the threat level from serious to existential.

"We want to get it solved. It's a big problem for our country and the world, and we want to get it solved," Mr Trump told reporters on Air Force One before landing.

He said a decision would be made soon on whether to add reclusive North Korea to a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

As a near neighbour, Japan has long lived with the prospect of being attacked by North Korea, with Pyongyang firing two test missiles over the nation in recent months.

"The greatest concern is that Trump may prove to be a 'wild card' in the carefully orchestrated and balanced geo-politics of the region," said Annelise Riles, a professor of law and anthropology at Cornell University.

"Asian politicians and diplomats will surely seize of this occasion to try to educate the President about the subtle ways they effectively manage the North Korean threat."

The US President will meet the families of Japanese people abducted by North Korea and forced to teach Japanese.

Mr Trump appears to have taken up the issue with some enthusiasm after Mr Abe personally explained it to him and asked for his support.

Despite their differences the two leaders appear to get along well, a bond secured over the course of nine meetings and 16 phone calls.

North Korea remains the focus, but the militarisation of Japan's Self Defence Force and the future of trade after the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are also likely to be on the agenda.

"One of the things we're going to be very focused on is trade because trade has not been done well for 25 years by the United States with this part of the world, with any part of the world," Mr Trump said on Air Force One.

"We're going to be discussing reciprocal trade. Fair, free but reciprocal."

Japan represents something of a soft landing for the US President's foray into Asia — a chance to stretch his legs on the golf course after long flights and warm up his diplomatic skills with a friend.