Winning over Trump
The author is head of the sports team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
When invited to the upcoming imperial succession by visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, U.S. President Donald Trump first hesitated and asked, “How big is that event compared to the Super Bowl for the Japanese?” When Abe answered, “It’s about 100 times bigger,” Trump beamed and said; “If that’s the case, I’ll be there.”
The pep talk has put Trump and his wife on the list as Japan’s first state guests after Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the throne next Wednesday, following the abdication of his father, Emperor Akihito.
Abe is a natural-born businessman. He knows how to win the heart of another. When Trump visited Japan in November 2017, the two played golf at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, north of Tokyo. Opened in 1929, the golf club is one of the oldest and most exclusive ones for Japanese businessmen and political leaders. Abe took pains to impress his guest by presenting him with a new club — a $3,755 Honma Beres S-05 with 9.5 degrees of loft with a 5S Armrg Infinity stiff shaft in glittery gold — just the way Trump would like it. His guest could not hide his joy. He unwrapped the gift on the spot and took it for the round.
In the clubhouse, the host revealed his second gift — a set of gleaming white baseball caps emblazoned with the slogan “Donald & Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater,” poignantly tweaked from Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Abe also brought along Hideki Matsuyama, one of the world’s top golf players, for their round.
He may have played the perfect host, but he did poorly on the course. Trump is an avid player, owning 17 golf clubs around the world. Even at over 70, he keeps his score under 90. Abe was mostly left behind as he could hardly keep up with Trump and Matsuyama due to the huge gap in their tee shot. At one point, Abe lost his balance while trying to run out of a bunker after he struggled to get the ball out of the sand many times and fell backward into the sandy hole.
Video footage of Abe’s backward tumble went viral on the internet, causing online disputes among the Japanese about a diplomatic humiliation. Abe, however, did not stop his courting.
He made his latest trip to Washington timed with first lady Melania Trump’s 49th birthday celebration on April 26. He presented the first lady with a tea set and her husband with pearl cuff links during their private dinner.
On the following day, the two played golf nearby in northern Virginia. Abe had gone that far to invite Trump to the enthroning ceremony. Foreign policy journal Politico noted, “Perhaps more than any world leader, the Japanese prime minister has sought to keep Donald Trump close.”
The difference is in Trump’s treatment. President Moon Jae-in received two minutes of private time with Trump during his visit to Washington earlier this month. Abe had dined with him for nearly two hours and played golf for more than four hours. Trump will be travelling to Japan in May to meet the new emperor and again in June for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.
Trump has asked Seoul to shoulder more costs for the U.S. Forces Korea. He did not make a similar demand of Tokyo.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 31