Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become the first political leader to meet with Donald Trump since he was elected president of the United States. The meeting held in New York on Nov. 17 should be the first step toward building stable Japan-U.S. relations.
It is extremely rare for a Japanese prime minister to meet with a U.S. president-elect who has not taken office yet. Still, the move is understandable, considering that Trump repeatedly made comments during his campaign that could shake up security and the economy in the international community including Japan.
The details of the meeting have not been disclosed since it was an unofficial meeting before Trump was sworn in. Following the meeting, Prime Minister Abe told reporters, “President-elect Trump will be a trustworthy leader.”
However, what kind of administration Trump will form is unpredictable and shrouded in a fog of mystery.
It is impossible for the prime minister to immediately build mutual trust with Trump and dispel concerns about the next U.S. leader during a meeting lasting just 90 minutes. Rather than discussing specific policy issues with Trump, who has a strong personality, Abe rather appears to have tried to begin efforts to build a relationship of trust with him and conveyed his basic views on security and the economy to the president-elect.
During his election campaign, Trump mentioned the possibility of reviewing the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and suggested that he would pull U.S. troops out of Japan unless Tokyo were to drastically increase its share of the costs of stationing U.S. troops in Japan. However, Japan already foots approximately 760 billion yen in costs related to U.S. forces in Japan a year. Trump should be aware that any increase in Japan’s share will not win understanding from Japanese taxpayers.
It is important to try to convince Trump that if Japan and the United States stably maintain their bilateral alliance and Washington continues to engage in Asia-Pacific affairs, it will bring peace and stability to the region as well as benefit the United States.
On the economic front, Abe appears to have underscored the significance of the promotion of free trade, including the enforcement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact.
Trump has criticized free trade, saying that less expensive foreign products have deprived Americans of job opportunities, and has voiced opposition to the TPP.
However, if the United States were to increase its exports to the Asia-Pacific region, it would likely accelerate U.S. economic growth and help create jobs in the country. Therefore, the TPP would be beneficial to the United States. The prime minister should continue patiently trying to convince Trump of the importance of the TPP.
Over the next several months, Trump will likely try to make his campaign pledges and the specific policy measures he will implement after he takes office consistent.
Japan-U.S. relations could come to a crossroads under the Trump administration.
The prime minister said he agreed during the meeting to hold a summit with Trump shortly after Trump takes office. Abe should repeatedly engage in dialogue so that Trump will deepen his understanding of bilateral ties, the Asia-Pacific region and international order.