A strategy to first focus on building a personal relationship of trust is not wrong when meeting someone with no experience in politics and who is known for radical remarks.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for the first time in New York. Afterward, Abe said about the meeting, “It gave me confidence that the two of us can build a relationship of trust.” Trump posted a message on his Facebook page expressing pleasure “to begin a great friendship” with Abe.
It is rare for a Japanese prime minister to meet with a U.S. president-elect before any other world leaders, and the meeting drew global attention. The specifics of the meeting were not made public. Optimistic views should not be allowed, but both sides positively evaluated the 90-minute meeting. This first Abe-Trump meeting was apparently largely favorable.
In the United States, the president holds great authority. If Japanese and U.S. leaders maintain friendly ties like the previous relationships of Yasuhiro Nakasone and Ronald Reagan, and Junichiro Koizumi and George W. Bush, there will be a positive impact on talks among ministers and bureaucrats of the two countries. Thorny diplomatic issues could be overcome.
There are two major concerns over the incoming Trump administration.
One is Trump’s call on Japan to shoulder significantly more of the costs of stationing U.S. forces on Japanese soil. Japan needs to prevent its alliance with the United States from faltering, especially at a time when circumstances in East Asia have become unstable due to issues such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and China’s maritime advance.
Help Trump have reality check
Some observers say Trump’s image of Japan is from the 1980s, when the two countries were at odds over trade friction, and that he has failed to grasp reality.
Japan pays about ¥760 billion a year to cover the costs of stationing U.S. forces in the nation. That is the largest amount among host nation allies of the United States.
Trump claimed the bilateral relationship is unilateral because the United States protects Japan, but Japan does not protect the United States. This is inaccurate.
After the Cold War, the Self-Defense Forces expanded their international missions and strengthened logistical support for the U.S. military. The asymmetric nature of the Japan-U.S. alliance has been redressed as the enactment of security-related laws has allowed Japan to exercise the limited right of collective self-defense.
It is vital for Japan to attentively explain these facts to the Trump side in an effort to increase its understanding of Japan.
Another concern is the unclear prospect for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of the free trade pact.
Failure to ensure the TPP comes into force will mean missing an opportunity to expand free trade in the Asia-Pacific region. A strategy to include China in the framework — for which Japan and the United States have taken the initiative in creating rules for highly liberated trade and investments — could fall through.
Japan should ensure the Diet approves TPP ratification during the current session and advocate the significance of the trade pact to the Trump side to explore a path in which the two countries can work together.