"The United States has suffered massive trade deficits with Japan for over 70 years," Trump said. "We want fair and open trade, but right now our trade with Japan is not fair and it's not open ... Right now, our trade with Japan is not free and it's not reciprocal."
Trump has made clear that rebalancing US trading relationships
and confronting the North Korean threat will be the two issues driving his discussions with foreign leaders during his trip through Asia, which began Sunday in Japan. But many former US officials and regional experts have warned that Trump's focus on trade could drive a wedge between the US and its allies in the region at a time when the fate of the North Korean threat could rest on the strength of those alliances.
Delivering remarks to a small group of top US and Japanese business leaders, Trump stressed the importance of renegotiating the terms of the trading relationship, which Trump slammed as lopsided.
But he also expressed optimism that those negotiations would help rebalance the relationship, a day after he spent hours with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the golf course
and at dinner discussing trade and other issues.
"We've started the process and it's gone on for a long time, but I know that we will be able to come up with trade deals and trade concepts that will be fair to both countries and actually will be better for both countries," Trump said.
The President's remarks came at the beginning of his second and final day in Japan, before he heads for the South Korean capital. There, Trump's remarks on trade will be even more closely watched, with some anxiety.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the US-South Korean free trade deal, known as KORUS, and threatened to pull out of the agreement barring substantial changes. And while Trump's relationship with Abe is one of the friendliest and closest he enjoys with foreign leaders
, Trump and South Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in have not always seen eye-to-eye, particularly on the best strategy for stopping advances in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Trump's remarks Monday morning, though, were tailored to his audience of US and Japanese business leaders, where Trump alternated between the role of boastful salesman and disgruntled customer.
After boasting about US economic growth, dipping unemployment and thinning regulations since he became President and running through a list of personal accomplishments, Trump turned to the deficit the US faces in its trading relationship with Japan, in part blaming Japanese companies for failing to sufficiently invest in the US.
"Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. Is that possible to ask? That's not rude. Is that rude? I don't think so," Trump offered, before remarking on the presence of executives from Toyota and Mazda, two Japanese car companies.
Trump proposed a deal sweetener to woo those companies to boost their production of cars in the US, suggesting "if you do a little more expansion, we'll do it from the Oval Office" -- which Trump has done several times with foreign companies that have invested in US manufacturing.
Perhaps sensing the wariness of the business leaders sitting before him, many of whom have expressed qualms about Trump's populist rhetoric and talk of protectionist trade measures, Trump promised his aggressive tack on renegotiating the trading relationship would be a boon for all.
"We will have more trade than anybody ever thought of under TPP," Trump said, referring to the Trans-Pacific trade agreement negotiated under his predecessor and quickly scrapped in his first week in office. "TPP was not the right idea ... ultimately, I'll be proven right."
"We will have much bigger trade," he said.