NEW YORK – Whether or not Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife can speak English is making the rounds online after a New York Times report Wednesday quoted U.S. President Donald Trump as claiming she cannot even say “hello.”
Some U.S. newspapers, however, reported that Japan’s first lady can in fact speak English, fueling speculation in social media she might have pretended not to speak the language in order to avoid conversing with Trump.
Recounting his interaction with Akie Abe, who was seated next to him during a dinner at the Group of 20 summit earlier this month in Hamburg, Germany, Trump said in an interview with The New York Times that she “doesn’t speak English…like, not ‘hello.'”
Trump said it was “hard” sitting next to someone he says does not speak English. Toward dessert, he left his spot to speak to his wife Melania, who was seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and went on to exchange pleasantries with the Russian leader, according to Trump.
While he called Akie “a terrific woman” and said, “I enjoyed the evening with her,” Trump said it “would have been even tougher” without an interpreter.
The guessing game over Akie’s English proficiency has caught on in social media and U.S. newspapers, with video clips and details of her English-language education in Japan revealed to refute Trump’s claim.
The Los Angeles Times posted a YouTube video link on its website to argue that while somewhat accented, Akie speaks “perfectly serviceable English.” The video clip featured the first lady delivering a speech in English about coastal resilience.
Social media users took to Twitter to weigh in on the subject, with some speculating the first lady may have feigned lacking English ability so as not to engage in conversation with Trump.
“Looks like the First Lady of Japan pretended not to speak English for nearly 2 hours to avoid talking to Trump,” one user tweeted.
Even the Japanese government felt compelled to comment on the subject. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the right-hand man to Akie’s husband, said at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday he believes Akie and Trump had a “meaningful conversation” through an interpreter.
“I believe (Akie) left a wonderful impression on President Trump,” the top government spokesman said.
It is not as if Trump had never been seated next to Akie. In February, he was photographed sitting next to her at a dinner table at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, with her husband Shinzo flanking Trump on the other side. One is left to wonder what conversation might have transpired between the two in English.