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Trump, in Japan, talks tough on the ‘menace’ of North Korea, trade

In a joint news conference with Japan's leader, President Trump pressed Japan on purchasing more U.S. military equipment to protect itself against North Korea. (Video: Reuters)

TOKYO — President Trump continued his tough line on both North Korea and trade Monday, standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and promising to work in solidarity with Japan to confront “the North Korean menace.”

At an afternoon news conference with Abe here, Trump said that “the era of strategic patience is over,” and he promised to counter “the dangerous aggressions” of a country whose leader the president has repeatedly dubbed “Rocket Man.”

“The regime continues development of its unlawful weapons programs, including its illegal nuclear tests and outrageous launches of ballistic missiles directly overly Japanese territory,” Trump said. “We will not stand for that.”

In his own remarks, Abe affirmed Trump’s stance, saying Japan supports the president’s previous comments that “all options are on the table” and similarly favors an approach of increasing pressure on North Korea rather than continuing dialogue with the nation.

Responding to a question — directed at Abe — about news reports that Trump had previously suggested to the Japanese prime minister that the “samurai” nation should have simply shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over it before crashing into the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, the president answered instead on Abe’s behalf.

“He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States,” Trump said. “The prime minister is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment by far.”

Trump’s remarks came during his second full day in Japan — the first stop on a five-country, 12-day swing through Asia — and followed events and meetings designed to underscore the close personal relationship between the two leaders.

On Sunday, Abe and Trump golfed nine holes at a country club here — jovially exchanging a fist-bump at one point — and Abe made sure that Trump, a picky eater, was served a burger specially made with American beef. He also designed several golf caps mimicking Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats from the campaign trail: “Donald & Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater,” read Abe’s twist on Trump’s signature slogan.

On Monday, the two men fed koi in a pond at one of the nation’s palaces — a quintessential photo opportunity. The two men spooned out bits of fish food from wooden boxes until Abe poured the remainder of the flakes from his container into the pond. Trump then did the same.

But despite the warm remarks on both sides — “Indeed, how many hours of dialogue did we have?” Abe asked at one point, recalling a friendship that dates back to the prime minister’s trip to Trump Tower before Trump was sworn in — Trump took a hard line on trade earlier in the day Monday, scolding Japan for the “massive trade deficits” between the nations.

“For the last many decades, Japan has been winning, you do know that,” Trump told a gathering of business leaders here. “We want fair and open trade, but right now our trade with Japan is not fair, and it’s not open. But I know it will be, soon. We want free and reciprocal trade, but right now our trade with Japan is not free and it’s not reciprocal, and I know it will be.”

President Trump spoke to the press after arriving in Japan and meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Nov. 5. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the news conference, Trump largely avoided a question about whether his tough stance on trade puts him on a collision course with China. But he did say the United States is facing a “very unfair trade situation” with China, which he visits later this week, and reiterated his belief that “reciprocal” trade between the United States and any nation is his preference.

Trump, who still has more than a week left on his trip through the region and appeared in high spirits when he first arrived in Japan, seemed to have wilted by the time he stepped behind his lectern Monday afternoon. He spoke in a largely flat monotone and leaned on the lectern at points.

Mostly gone were his trademark flourishes, which appeared only a handful of times, such as when he took part of Abe’s question to tout U.S. fighter jets and missiles (“the best military equipment by far”) and promise that Japan would be able to take on future North Korea missiles with precision after buying American systems (“He will shoot them out of the sky”).