WASHINGTON, Apr. 23 (Reuters) - Former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, a senior figure in the country's ruling party, met with Donald Trump on Tuesday, becoming the latest U.S. ally seeking to establish ties with the Republican presidential candidate.

The 83-year-old Aso, who is currently vice president of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, entered Trump Tower in Manhattan on Tuesday evening and met with the former U.S. president for about an hour.
"He's a highly respected man in Japan and beyond and somebody that I've liked and I've known through our very dear friend Shinzo," Trump said as he escorted Aso into the building, referring to the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

They discussed the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and challenges posed by China and North Korea, Trump's campaign said in a statement.

Trump also praised Japan's increased defense spending, according to the statement.

Trump is in New York to attend a criminal trial in which prosecutors allege that he falsified business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels, who says they had a sexual encounter 10 years earlier, so as not to hurt his chances in the 2016 election.

Aso was deputy prime minister under Abe, who formed a close bond with Trump during his presidency. A longtime powerbroker in Japanese politics, Aso has decades of experience shaping U.S.-Japan ties.

Japan has been trying to connect with people close to Trump ahead of the Nov. 5 U.S. presidential election, reflecting concerns that if he wins, Trump could resurrect protectionist trade measures or take other steps that could hurt the Japanese economy or impact strong defense ties with the United States.

In a post on his Truth Social on Tuesday, Trump decried the yen's historic slide against the dollar, calling it a "total disaster" for the United States.

"When I was President, I spent a good deal of time telling Japan and China, in particular, you can't do that," he wrote. "It sounds good to stupid people, but it is a disaster for our manufacturers and others ... This is what made Japan and China into behemoths years ago. I put limits on both (and others!), and if they violated those limits, there was hell to pay."

The yen has been trading around a 34-year-low against the dollar, just shy of 155 yen - a cause for concern for Japanese authorities as well as markets that are on heightened alert for any signs of intervention from Tokyo to prop up the currency.

Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki issued the strongest warning to date on Tuesday on the chance of intervention in the market, saying last week's meeting with U.S. and South Korean counterparts had laid the groundwork for Tokyo to act against excessive yen moves.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a Tuesday news conference that Aso's U.S. visit was "a personal activity" of a lawmaker and "the government is not involved," when asked about the diplomatic implications of Aso meeting Trump.

The Trump-Aso meeting occurred about two weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled plans for military cooperation and an array of projects aimed at strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The meeting marks the latest effort by a foreign country to shore up ties with Trump as polls show an extremely close re-match between him and Biden.

Photo from Reuters