Aso Seeks to Build Personal Relationship with Trump, Anticipating Possible Return to White House

Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Taro Aso, right, receives a gold key as a commemorative gift from former U.S. President Donald Trump after their meeting in New York on Tuesday, in this photo that Trump posted on social media.

NEW YORK — Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Taro Aso’s meeting with former U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday reflected his hope to establish a personal relationship of trust with him as soon as possible.

Aso believes a pipeline with Trump will be crucial to maintaining the bilateral alliance if Trump is re-elected as U.S. president and reinstates the America First policy.

Trump greeted Aso in the lobby of Trump Tower, telling reporters: “He’s a highly respected man in Japan and beyond and somebody that I’ve liked and I’ve known through our very dear friend Shinzo,” referring to the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

According to sources close to Trump and Aso, Trump showed Aso the view from the tower and treated him to his favorite foods, Coke and hamburgers.

Trump asked during their meeting how Prime Minister Fumio Kishida differs from Abe, and Aso replied that Kishida’s Cabinet has increased defense spending and given Japan counterattack capabilities.

Abe was more popular, but Kishida has produced real results, Aso said.

Before Aso left the tower, Trump repeatedly said, “I love Japan.” Aso commented to people around him that the meeting was a great success.

Taking action early on

Aso believes that even if Trump wins the presidential election in November and reintroduces his America First policy, Japan will be able to exchange views with the United States on an equal basis if he instills a favorable impression of Japan early on.

Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump in November 2016, who had just won the presidential election, leading to a close relationship with Trump.

Aso was also encouraged by the fact that British Foreign Minister David Cameron, Polish President Andrzej Duda and other officials from various countries have visited Trump since the beginning of April.

Aso was a close ally of Abe’s and has been a strong supporter of the Kishida administration. Aso is an acquaintance of Trump’s, having accompanied Abe for their summits as deputy prime minister and finance minister in the Abe Cabinet.

A senior LDP official said that if Aso met Trump as a party member, rather than in a governmental capacity, the meeting would have little impact on relations with the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

However, Kishida recently received a warm welcome from Biden on the first state visit to the U.S. in nine years by the Japanese prime minister and deepened relations at their summit. A U.S. government official has therefore said that Aso’s latest move shows a lack of courtesy.