- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2017

President Trump often criticized President Obama for playing golf, but Mr. Trump will fly to Florida at taxpayer expense Friday to play for the second time in his 3-week-old presidency, this one involving some tee-to-green diplomacy with Japan’s prime minister.

The president will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on Friday and hold a joint press conference before they fly off to spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s resort in Palm Beach.

White House aides said Mr. Trump will personally pay for lodging for the prime minister and his wife as a gift, apparently in hopes of easing ethics questions about his resorts receiving any money from foreign governments.

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said there should be “no intermingling of White House and business operations” by Mr. Trump.

“Just as he should be receiving no payments, gifts or emoluments from foreign leaders or governments, he should not be providing any either,” Mr. Weissman said. “This routine sloshing around of money is guaranteed to land the presidency, and the country, in deep trouble.”

While in Florida, the president and Mr. Abe are expected to play golf while they discuss trade, security and ways to strengthen the alliance.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump frequently blasted Mr. Obama for playing golf frequently while in office — well over 300 rounds.

“He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods,” Mr. Trump said in December 2015. “We don’t have time for this. We have to work.”

An aide said Mr. Trump believes he can “get the measure of people through more informal settings” such as a golf course.

Also during the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump openly questioned the value of some U.S. alliances. But White House aides were sounding a different tone ahead of the meeting with Mr. Abe.

“At the end of the day, America’s great because of our alliances,” a senior White House official said. “The president believes that our alliances are central to our success in the region.”

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, said the meetings will be important for the two leaders to establish a personal bond.

“I think the best thing that can come out of this is just to establish some rapport,” Mr. Lohman said. “It’s the most important relationship we have in Asia.”

Japan received a visit last week from Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, underscoring the importance that the Trump administration places on the alliance. The U.S. relies on Japan on issues such as China’s expansionism and North Korea’s nuclear belligerence.

Mr. Abe was the first foreign leader to visit Mr. Trump after he won the election. The two leaders are likely to discuss the outlines of a new trade relationship after Mr. Trump formally put an end to the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade deal that included Japan.

“The U.S. absolutely needs a Plan B here,” Mr. Lohman said. “A U.S.-Japan [free trade agreement] would make the most sense. I don’t think the Japanese are ready yet to commit to that, just because they’ve got their own politics to deal with.”

Mr. Trump targeted Japan during the campaign for complaints of currency manipulation on trade matters, and last week he said Japan and China have made U.S. officials “look like dummies” over the years on the issue. But the senior administration official said the president isn’t likely to raise the issue this weekend.

“That’s not something that’s at the top of the list. If it comes up in natural conversation, we’ll see,” the official said.

A Japanese government official told Bloomberg that Mr. Abe plans to urge Mr. Trump to discuss currency issues at international forums such as the Group of Seven and the Group of 20, instead of seeking talks with individual countries. Mr. Abe plans to tell him that Japan’s monetary policy is aimed at battling deflation and not at weakening the yen, the official said.

The U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents smaller domestic producers, is running a series of advertisements in Washington urging Mr. Trump to “take a hard line on Japan’s ongoing currency cheating before considering any new trade deals.”

“Prime Minister Abe is bringing a five-point plan for Japanese investment in the U.S.,” said USBIC President Kevin Kearns. “But that plan will undoubtedly omit any mention of the trade barriers that Tokyo continually employs to take market share from U.S. manufactures of vehicles, auto parts and other equipment. President Trump needs to be vigilant and forceful when meeting with Mr. Abe. If President Trump wants to carry through on his campaign promise, he must bring Abe up short on any cheery notion that business will continue as usual.”

Japan has compiled a $69 billion trade surplus with the U.S. over the past two years.

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