He said what? A look back at Trump's Japan bashing

Trump talks trade, media in rare Morton Downey Jr. interview
Trump talks trade, media in rare Morton Downey Jr. interview

President Trump will host Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House and his Florida golf course later this week.

If the atmosphere is a little awkward as the leaders tee off at Mar-a-Lago, it may have something to do with remarks Trump has made about Japan.

Along with China and Mexico, Japan was one of Trump's favorite punching bags on the campaign trail -- and his criticism hasn't stopped since he took office.

Here are some of the most inflammatory things he has said about one of America's most important allies in Asia:

'We want deal!'

At a rally in August 2015, Trump used broken English to impersonate Asian negotiators he's dealt with during his business career.

"Negotiating with Japan, negotiating with China -- when these people walk into the room, they don't say, 'Oh, hello, how's the weather? So beautiful outside, isn't it lovely? How are the Yankees doing? Oh, they're doing wonderful, great,'" he said. "They say, 'We want deal!'"

His comments were criticized as an "offensive parody" by Mike Honda, a Democratic congressman for California.

Related: Wilbur Ross calls China 'the most protectionist country'

'Abe and all of these killers'

During another rally that month, Trump slammed Obama's choice of Caroline Kennedy as U.S. ambassador to Japan, suggesting she wasn't the right person for the job.

Kennedy was being "wined and dined by Abe and all of these killers," Trump lamented. "Wined and dined!"

The context of the remarks suggests Trump was implying Abe and his colleagues are ruthless negotiators, but the choice of words to describe government officials from an important ally raised eyebrows.

Related: Trump wants to 'speed' up NAFTA talks

'They're all taking our jobs'

Japan is one of the countries Trump has repeatedly accused of "killing" the U.S. through unfair practices on trade.

"Whether it's China or Japan or Mexico, they're all taking our jobs, and we need jobs in this country," he said early in his campaign.

Some commentators have found the inclusion of Japan in Trump's list puzzling, noting that the country has in recent decades become a symbol of economic stagnation.

"Mr. Trump might be stuck in a 1980s time warp about Japan," CNN's Fareed Zakaria said, referring to the era when the Japanese economy was still strong and seen as a serious rival to the U.S.

Related: Trump in 1989: Japan has 'sucked the blood out of America'

'They have to protect themselves or they have to pay us'

Trump sent shock waves through the international community early last year when he suggested some allies could develop their own nuclear weapons rather than rely on the U.S.

"Japan is better if it protects itself against this maniac of North Korea," Trump told CNN in March. "We are better off frankly if South Korea is going to start protecting itself ... they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us."

Japan remains the only country to have had nuclear weapons used against it -- in the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II -- and has had a pacifist constitution since the end of that conflict.

Related: Japan and South Korea hit back at Trump's nuclear comments

'They can sit home and watch Sony television'

Trump returned to the theme again and again during the campaign. In August, he laid into the U.S. treaty commitment to defend Japan.

"You know we have a treaty with Japan where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States," he said. "If we're attacked, Japan doesn't have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, OK?"

Under Abe, Japan has in fact become more willing to take responsibility for its own security and that of the region. Officials have cited changes to Japanese law that allow the country to take part in limited collective self-defense.

Defense Secretary James Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defending Japan when he visited the country last week.

Related: Mattis in Asia: Fears soothed but uncertainty remains

'I love Japan'

As with some of his other targets, Trump has mixed his jabs at Japan with positive language.

"I love Japan," he said during the campaign. "We're going to have a great relationship with Japan."

Related: Japan says Trump's currency criticism is 'totally incorrect'

And Trump's criticisms haven't deterred Abe from pursuing a close relationship. He became the first foreign leader to meet Trump in person after the U.S. election, emerging from Trump Tower saying he was "convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have confidence."

But Trump's attacks on Japan have continued -- recent targets have included its currency and its auto industry -- prompting officials in Tokyo to express bewilderment and try to set the record straight.

Personal Finance


CNNMoney Sponsors