TOKYO — President Trump said Monday that Japan could protect itself from a nuclear-armed North Korea by buying billions of dollars of US military equipment, drawing an explicit link between trade and security as he began a complex, politically charged tour of Asia.
By turns generous and challenging, Trump saluted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as among his best friends in the club of world leaders.
But he railed against what he said were chronic trade imbalances with Japan. And he implicitly acknowledged his disappointment that Abe did not shoot down missiles that North Korea recently fired over Japan.
“He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States,” Trump said, standing alongside Abe at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. “The prime minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should.”
“It’s a lot of jobs for us and a lot of safety for Japan,” the president added.
Trump steered clear of the inflammatory statements about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, that he has used in the past. But he defended his use of such confrontational language, suggesting that the reluctance of his predecessors to make such statements had emboldened Kim.
“Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong, but look what’s happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years,” Trump said. “Look where we are right now.”
The president refused to rule out eventual military action against North Korea and declared that the United States “will not stand” for Pyongyang menacing America or its allies. He called the recent launches of missiles over Japanese territory ‘‘a threat to the civilized world and international peace and stability.’’
Trump was to depart Tokyo for Seoul on Tuesday morning, the second stop of his 12-day, five-nation trip to Asia.
He is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Wednesday for what the Chinese Foreign Ministry says is Trump’s first visit to the Chinese capital. The Chinese are calling it “a state visit plus,” promising grand pageantry in the Great Hall of the People and the ancient roofed pavilions of the Forbidden City.
Trump’s remarks in Tokyo came on a day of high pomp and plain-spoken politics, which showcased both the president’s fitful adjustment to the rituals of statecraft and his determination to keeping pounding at the hot-button issues that vaulted him into the White House.
Before midday, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko welcomed Trump and his wife, Melania, at the Imperial residence.
The president was formally received by Abe on a red carpet at Akasaka Palace, a neo-Baroque building that resembles Buckingham Palace. The two men inspected an honor guard, glittering in gold braid, their rifles fixed with bayonets.
Earlier, however, Trump used a breakfast meeting of Japanese and American business executives to deliver a scathing critique of the trade relationship between the two countries. Japan, he said, bought virtually no cars from the United States while exporting millions of vehicles into the US market.
“Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over,” Trump said, disregarding the fact that Japanese carmakers have built huge assembly plants in the United States. “That’s not too much to ask,” he continued. “Is that rude to ask?”
In somewhat gentler terms, Trump told Abe that the United States was seeking a new kind of trade relationship.
Though he praised the Japanese economy, the president added, “I don’t know if it’s as good as ours. I think not, OK?” he said, shooting Abe a glance. “And we’re going to try to keep it that way, and you’ll be second.”
Abe reacted mildly to reports in the Japanese media — which Trump implicitly confirmed during the news conference — that Trump was dismayed by Japan’s decision not to shoot down missiles North Korea fired over Japanese territory in August and September. The missiles flew over the island of Hokkaido before landing harmlessly in the sea.
In conversations with other Asian leaders, a senior US official said, Trump asked why a country of “samurai warriors” did not shoot down the missiles, which the North Koreans launched in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Trump did not directly address the issue Monday.
Japan had tracked the missiles North Korea fired over Japan, Abe said, and would have shot them down if they had posed a threat to Japanese citizens.
Japan’s US-made missile defense systems would have enabled it to shoot down the missile that flew over Hokkaido on Aug. 29, though not a subsequent one tested on Sept. 15.
Since North Korea has so far conducted only missile tests — as opposed to launching missiles armed with live warheads — Japan does not have the legal right to intercept them.