Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trust Is A Word I Believe In, Yes

First off and foremost, my utter admiration for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo for making his lightning, naked visit to the Trump residence to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. The usual mechanisms of managing the asymmetric Japan-U.S. relationship were broken -- the U.S. Japan Hands were all violently pro-Clinton (for good reason, mind you) leaving Japan with almost zero contacts in the Trump organization post-election. Abe himself, on the advice of the relationship managers, had doubled down on the mistake, meeting Clinton but not Trump during the campaign. By going into a one-on-many meeting with the Trump family brain trust with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs kicking and screaming at him not to (read Yuki Tatsumi's post for a taste of the toned down version of this kicking and screaming) Abe personally rescued Japan's place in the U.S. orbit and possibly put in a few good blows for a rule-based, rather than a power-based, world order on the side.

Now about Abe saying that he has established a relationship of trust with Trump, as many in the non-Japanese speaking news biz have reported, it is important to know exactly what the prime minister said after his meeting with the Trumps.

In prepared introductory remarks, the prime minister said this about trust:


That we together could build a relationship of trust, we had a conversation that could confirm this. As for the internal details, he let me relate to him my basic way of thinking. I talked about a range of subjects.

In this opening statement Abe does not say that he trusts Trump. What he says is that he went into their conversation with a purpose of building a relationship of trust and that the president-elect allowed him to express his own views. As to what he thought of what Donald Trump said in the meeting, nothing.

It was in response to a reporter's question (smart reporter) that Abe had to make a second, unprepared statement about trusting Trump:


I cannot answer your question concretely as regards the views of each but without trust an alliance cannot function. As for me, as for whether or not President-Elect Trump is a leader one can truly trust, I was able to confirm this.

For me, the intrusion of the adverbials masa ni ("truly, really, actually") and kono yo ni ("in this manner") makes this response sing. These phrase hint that Abe is making a case rather than responding in earnest.

Thanks to the vagaries of Japanese sentence structure the PM never says he trusts the President-elect. What he says he has confirmed is whether or not he can truly trust him -- to which the answer is yes, he has confirmed it -- it being "whether or not he can truly trust him."

To which, if Abe is asked later by someone interested in what transpired in that first meeting, he can in all honesty reply:
Oh yes, I did confirm whether or not I could truly trust him, and the answer to that question was, "No, I could not."

So yes, Abe did confirm something about Trump and trust. But the door is open on just what that something is.

And that ambiguity is in everyone's interest right now.

Later - In comment, David Littleboy offers a possible and highly likely explanation of kono yo ni that would strengthen the case of those saying that Abe has declared Trump trustworthy.

The Japan News, which is translated from the pro-government Yomiuri Shimbun's reports, takes the circumspect route (Link).

The always problematic official-yet-only-provisional Prime Minister's Residence translation is, by contrast, emphatic (Link).


David J. Littleboy said...

Hmm. I don't see a "whether or not" in the Japanese. And the "kono you ni" bit seems to mean "by coming to NYC as I did". So I read the last sentence there as a strong statement that Abe very much did confirm that Trump is truly a leader one can trust. I don't see any infelicities or vagaries in the Japanese sentence. It seems to me to be exactly and only saying "I, through this meeting, confirmed that Mr. Trump is truly a leader one can trust."

But I think you are right about the adverbs. Abe seems to be sucking up to Trump (with "you really are an incredibly trustworthy bloke") and then hoping that some of that praise (for something that's we all know to be counterfactual) will stick in Trump's prideful mind and function as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ed Neiheisel said...

I agree that making this lightening quick visit was quite courageous on Abe's part as almost every other world leader was still trying to figure out what his victory would mean to them. Japan did not know either but Abe decided to use the NY fuel stop as a way to try and start finding out. He has gone with the group advice a lot of times before but this time he showed some maturation as a world leader. To Japan's beneit I believe.