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Trump To Be The 1st Foreign Leader To Greet Japan's New Emperor


Today President Trump travels to Japan for a state visit. He's going to meet with Japan's new emperor. Foreign governments have tried to use these one-on-one trips to impress Trump and to try to get into his good graces. That strategy has gotten mixed results. Here's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: President Trump loves a good show. And when he's gone abroad, world leaders have aimed to please. In Trump's first year in office, there was a special couples night out with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife in Paris.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We had dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower. And it was one of the most beautiful evenings you'll ever see, so that was a great honor.

RASCOE: Later that year, there was an epic trip to China, which Trump was still talking about months later.


TRUMP: People really have never seen anything like it - going to the Forbidden City - and a theater that hadn't been open in over a hundred years. The level of talent that we watched was really something special.

RASCOE: Then in 2018, high tea with Queen Elizabeth during a stop in the United Kingdom.


TRUMP: So I then go up and meet the queen, and she is fantastic. We then go up, and we have tea. And I didn't know this. It was supposed to last for 15 minutes, but it lasted for, like, an hour because we got along.

RASCOE: But these grand displays haven't translated into lasting benefits for these countries. Macron and Trump are at odds over Europe's military spending. The U.S. and China are battling it out over trade, and Trump has been critical over the U.K.'s management of Brexit. Japanese Prime Minister Abe is hoping to avoid the same fate with Trump's visit this weekend.

Michael Green focuses on Japan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says there's more than flattery at stake here.

MICHAEL GREEN: They really need to show, at home and in the region and especially to the Chinese, how strong the alliance with the U.S. is because they can't handle China alone in Asia.

RASCOE: On this trip, Trump will be the first foreign leader to greet the new emperor. Japan will also treat him to a sumo wrestling competition, where the champion will receive a U.S.-made trophy.

GREEN: A lot of this is the symbolism of showing, you know, not only our governments, not only our businesses, not only our people but the president too considers Japan our best friend in Asia.

RASCOE: For Abe, forging a personal relationship with Trump has been a top priority. That's meant lots of phone calls and golf between him and Trump. Abe even came to Washington for first lady Melania Trump's birthday. There have been some disappointments for Japan, like getting hit with U.S. steel tariffs. Japan also hasn't always been in the loop on some U.S. decisions about North Korea. But for the most part, the country has avoided direct conflict with Trump.

Brett Bruen was director of global engagement during the Obama administration.

BRETT BRUEN: Trump feels like Abe, even if they may have disagreements, gets him. And he can communicate frustration in a more structured way, whereas he has resorted, in disagreements with Macron, Trudeau and others, to lashing out on Twitter.

RASCOE: That friendship will be put to the test in coming months as Trump decides whether to put tariffs on Japanese car imports - a major red line for Japan. The issue will come up while Trump is in Tokyo, but a true showdown was put off last week when Trump decided to extend the deadline for his decision another six months. Until then, the show goes on.

Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News, the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIZUE'S "UNNECESSARY PAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.