At a news conference in Tokyo today, Donald Trump read from a prepared script and praised Japan’s economy while standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The American president then paused for a moment and decided to add an unscripted thought.
“I don’t know if [Japan’s economy is] as good as ours. I think not. OK? We’re going to try to keep it that way. And you’ll be second.”
First, I realize America’s amateur president isn’t skilled in diplomacy, but when visiting an allied country, it’s generally not polite to brag publicly that the host nation’s economy isn’t as impressive as the United States’ economy.
Second, while the American economy is, by a wide margin, still the largest on the planet, China is the next closest, not Japan. Trump’s dig at the Japanese economy created a needlessly awkward moment, but it was also factually wrong.
This followed a similar problem last night, when Trump shared some related thoughts on Japanese manufacturing during a briefing with business executives.
“If you’re a Japanese firm, we love it – try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over,” the American president said. “Is that possible to ask? That’s not rude. Is that rude? I don’t think so.”
The trouble is, Japanese auto manufacturers are already doing this. In 2013, 70% of the Japanese cars sold in the United States were built in North America. By the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, that total was up to 75%.
In fairness to Trump, he seemed at least somewhat aware of this. The Washington Post noted the full context of the president’s comments, in which Trump referenced investments Japanese car companies have made in the United States.
If the American president realizes that these companies are already building cars in North America, why would he encourage them to “try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over”? Maybe he expects the number to be even closer to 100%?