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Trump and Abe's golf diplomacy: Effectively pitched or still a fairway to go?

Patrick Harlan (Mainichi)

As U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strolled leisurely across a Floridian fairway as part of their "golf summit" over the weekend of Feb. 11, people in Japan were left wondering what the meeting represented exactly, in terms of U.S-Japan relations.

The trip drew some sharp comments from some observers, who stated, "This was nothing but a vacation for the U.S. President," and, "This is simply the sight of a businessman promoting one of his many tourist resorts." Nevertheless, some saw the meeting in a positive light, as they believe that the summit will help bring the two nations closer together.

What is clear, however, is that Trump's hard-line stances on trade and security policy regarding Japan -- views he had been expressing since the election campaign -- were concealed during the summit and instead he showed hospitality to Abe and his wife Akie.

Below, three Japan based commentators -- American comedian Patrick Harlan, academic Makoto Sakai, and impressionist Hide Fukumoto -- express their views on Trump and Abe's golf diplomacy.

Makoto Sakai (Mainichi)

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Often referred to by his stage name "Pakkun," Harvard-educated Patrick Harlan is well known in Japan for his insightful commentary on American news and trends. Commenting on Trump's meeting style in Florida, Harlan states, "This was a chance for Trump to promote some of his real estate, while also playing his favorite game of golf. For the U.S. president, this was just a relaxing and fun way to spend a weekend." Harlan referred to the meeting as the summit of "small delicacies."

Harlan continues, "As leaders across the world continue to distance themselves from Trump, the president must have been grateful that Abe wanted to deepen his relationship with him. Here in Japan, there hasn't really been any major criticism of Abe wanting to get closer to Trump, and people seem to be watching the whole event as a form of entertainment."

Furthermore, Harlan says, "As an American, I think it's strange that the two had such a casual summit at this time of diplomatic uncertainty between U.S. and Japan. The reason why the summit has been shown all across the American media is not because people are interested in diplomatic relations with Japan as such, but because Trump is so preposterous."

Makoto Sakai, an associate professor at Bunkyo University who specializes in web media analysis, says, "It was simply 'businessman' diplomacy. It was also a tourism PR stunt for the state of Florida."

Hide Fukumoto (Mainichi)

Sakai adds that by tweeting out photographs of the two leaders high-fiving on the golf course -- with the Stars and Stripes flying in the background -- it gave off a favorable impression. "It promoted Trump's resorts to Japanese people, and it was also a way of returning his gratitude to Florida -- which supported him during the U.S. presidential election."

On the other hand, the impressionist Hide Fukumoto -- who is part of the political satire group "The Newspaper" -- pointed out, "Abe had a big wide smile in Florida. Trump is a businessman who behaves instinctively, and who also uses the 'carrot and stick' technique when dealing with people. I think it was worthwhile for Abe to throw himself at Trump."

"Together, they were able to stand side-by-side, and express their joint disdain toward the missile (which was launched by North Korea while Abe was in Florida). Personally, I think that we should welcome Abe's success in bonding with someone he will maintain a lasting relationship with."

Fukumoto ends by saying that, if anything, the continued close relationship between the two leaders will help provide him with further material for his future comedy sketches -- a gain that is perhaps par for the course.

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