It was a story that seemed to reinforce stereotypes of President Donald Trump: On a visit to Japan, he was handed a box of food for a ritual feeding of carp, and after doling out a few spoons’ worth, he got impatient and dumped the rest of the box all at once.
Initial reports of the food dump — like this early video from CNN — suggested that Trump acted on his own. This pushed the late-night Twitterverse and blogosphere into a tizzy. The website Jezebel posted a story headlined, “Big Stupid Baby Dumps Load Of Fish Food On Japanese Koi Pond.”
No world leader has tried harder to get on President Trump’s good side than Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Whether racing to New York the day after the 2016 election and presenting Trump with a $3,755 gold-plated golf driver, or taking him out on the golf course and serving hamburgers for lunch, Abe has cultivated a close personal relationship with his American counterpart.
.. But now, Japan, which is not just led by a friendly politician but also is a key security ally of the United States, looks likely to be slapped with tariffs on its steel exports to the United States. And to add insult to injury, the reason, Trump says, is rooted in national security.
“The U.S. is suddenly treating Japan as a target,” said Tsuyoshi Kawase, a professor of international trade policy at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The Japanese side is bewildered and confused.”.. countries that figured, no matter the bumps in relations with Washington, they would wind up on the same side against China in any dispute over steel or unfair trade practices. And yet suddenly there is talk of a trade war between the United States and its supposed friends... Even those leaders who have grown accustomed to the zigs and zags of the Trump White House say this could be different. The consequences of Trump’s targeting other priorities — the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal chief among them — have not had an immediate, concrete effect. But the tariffs could soon put citizens in ally nations out of work, and if a trade war escalates, all sides could feel the pain, officials from Brasília to Brussels to Seoul say.“The impulsiveness of the decision caught us by surprise,” said Diego Bonomo, the head of foreign trade at the National Trade Association of Brazil. His country is the second-largest exporter of steel to the United States.
“It’s an economic shot in the foot,” he said. “When they impose tariffs to hurt Brazilian steel, they hurt their own coal exports and exports of products that use steel.”
.. Trump’s order came hours after Japan and 10 other countries formalized a new Pacific free-trade agreement
.. The announcement also upended a Saturday meeting of the top U.S., E.U. and Japanese trade negotiators, who were originally scheduled to convene to talk about how to take on what they say is China’s unfair support for its steel industry. Instead, officials say, the meeting may turn out to be the first salvo in an unfolding and escalating trade skirmish.
.. The frustration is compounded by Trump’s national security rationale. In fact, say U.S. allies, there is no national security risk to importing steel and aluminum from one’s closest military partners. And any move that damages their own industries also hits at overall NATO readiness and hurts trust among allies, they say.
.. But that response could backfire, some analysts say. If the WTO rules against the White House, and Trump chooses to ignore the ruling, that could effectively spell the end of the organization.
.. “To be honest, everyone kind of agrees with us,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door European efforts. “I haven’t found anyone who says, ‘No no, the president is right.’ ”
.. The prospect of steel tariffs follows on the heels of similar levies on solar panels and washing machines. But it comes at a sensitive time on the front of North Korean diplomacy.
.. tariffs could have a “negative impact on South Korea-U.S. relations,”
.. Many in Japan worry that Trump’s effort may ultimately undermine global security, not bolster it.
“When trade friction grows between allies, the alliance is weakened,” Watanabe said. “But it’s unclear if Trump understands that.”