The Japanese government has stressed the significance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to play golf with U.S. President Donald Trump during his scheduled visit to the United States from Feb. 10, while opposition party lawmakers are critical of Abe's plan to prioritize building a friendly relationship with Trump as world leaders have voiced negative views over the president's immigration policies.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Feb. 7, "It's extremely important (for the prime minister) to build a personal relationship of trust (with the president)," justifying Abe's golf diplomacy. He added that Trump has invited Abe for a round of golf while the Japanese prime minister is in the United States.
Suga also recalled Abe's first summit meeting with then President Barack Obama in February 2013 after Abe returned to power in 2012, saying that the prime minister was initially given only 45 minutes with Obama. "It took a lot of effort (on the Japanese government's side) to get the extra 15 minutes for the meeting," Suga added, and praised Trump's hospitality over the scheduled summit.
Trump said on a Feb. 5 radio show that playing golf is a better way to get to know a person than having lunch together. He told the radio show host of the plan to take Prime Minister Abe to Palm Beach in Florida to play golf.
However, building a close relationship with Trump may hurt Abe, as British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a domestic and international backlash, especially from European countries that are working together over the refugee crisis, after she emphasized her close ties with Trump and failed to condemn his travel ban executive order affecting people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Hiroshi Ogushi, the Policy Research Committee chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, told the Mainichi Shimbun that he was "a little worried" as to what kind of message Abe's playing golf with Trump will send to the world.
Social Democratic Party Secretary-General Seiji Mataichi told a news conference on Feb. 7 that the prime minister's attempts to build a good relationship with President Trump was "embarrassing" compared to European leaders who have voiced stern criticism of Trump's immigration policies.