(Adds details on Japanese executives)
By Jeff Mason
TOKYO, May 25 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump urged Japanese business leaders on Saturday to increase their investment in the United States while gently knocking Japan for having a “substantial edge” on trade that negotiators were trying to even out in a bilateral deal.
Trump arrived in Japan on Saturday for a largely ceremonial state visit meant to showcase strong ties even as trade tensions loom. In the evening, the Tokyo Sky Tree tower was lit up red, white and blue in Trump’s honor.
Shortly after arriving at the airport to a red-carpet welcome, he attended a reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty that the White House said included top Japanese business executives from Toyota, Nissan , Honda, SoftBank and Rakuten.
Trump told the company officials there had never been a better time to invest in the United States and repeated a complaint that the Federal Reserve’s policies had kept U.S. economic growth from reaching its full potential.
With trade talks ongoing, Trump also got in a dig at Japan and said he wanted a deal to address the trade imbalance between the two countries and ensure fairness and reciprocity.
“Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years, but that’s OK, maybe that’s why you like us so much,” he said.
Trump will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday for a round of golf, a sumo tournament and a private dinner.
The two men share a warm relationship, which the Japanese leader aims to emphasize as Washington considers tariffs on Japanese auto exports that the Trump administration views as a potential national security threat.
The United States is in the middle of an expensive trade war with China in protest against Beijing’s treatment of U.S. companies, and tensions with Japan and the European Union over trade are simmering.
Trump and Abe are expected to address trade during more formal talks on Monday, but officials have played down the possibility of a deal during the visit. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are also likely to be on the agenda.
The trip is largely ceremonial in nature. The president will become the first foreign leader to be received by new Japanese Emperor Naruhito since he inherited the throne earlier this month; he and Harvard-educated Empress Masako will host an elaborate dinner for the Trumps on Monday night.
Trump made clear during an impromptu news conference on Thursday that he was flattered by the invitation.
“Prime Minister Abe said to me, very specifically, ‘You are the guest of honor.’ There’s only one guest of honor … I’m the guest of honor at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years,” Trump said.
“So it’s a great thing. And we get along very well with Japan. I get along very well with the prime minister.”
A medium-strength earthquake hit eastern Japan, causing buildings to shake in Tokyo, hours before Trump’s arrival.
The epicenter was southern Chiba, southeast of the capital, the prefecture where Trump is due to play golf on Sunday.
No tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage. (Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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