TOKYO — U.S. President Donald Trump kicks off his Asia tour on Sunday by visiting Japan for three days to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders are expected to discuss plans to expand economic growth beyond Asia, across the Indian Ocean to Africa, amid China’s growing influence in the region.
The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” a vision presented by Abe in 2016, aims to achieve both growth and stability around the Indian Ocean by focusing on fast-growing Asia and the high growth potential of Africa.
Trump is expected to underscore America’s strong commitment to the Indo-Pacific region at a summit with Abe on Monday, as well as in his speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Danang, Vietnam, on Nov. 10- 11.
Trump is scheduled to visit five countries in Asia during his tour through Nov. 14, including China, South Korea and the Philippines.
Key to Abe’s strategy — in particular, the promotion of free trade and defense cooperation — is a partnership between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. Trump and Abe will likely confirm the importance of the four-country framework at their summit meeting in Tokyo.
Japan hopes to first set up a ministerial dialogue between the four countries and later upgrade it to talks between their leaders.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono proposed the four-country framework at a strategic dialogue with his U.S. and Australian counterparts in Manila in August, as well as at a meeting with U.S. and Indian counterparts in New York in September.
Specifically, Japan hopes to enhance cooperation in security, including plans to expand the operations of its Self-Defense Forces, which are already conducting joint exercises with the U.S. and Australia, as well as with the U.S. and India.
Japan also hopes to promote free trade. It wants to invest by drawing on private-sector money to provide quality infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region in an effort to offset the influence of cash-rich China.
The push for wider cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is partly intended to keep in check China’s growing presence in the region under its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, aimed at extending its reach beyond its borders.
While in Japan, Trump is scheduled to dine with Abe four times, an apparent affirmation of the strong ties between the two countries and the two leaders. Later in the day, the leaders and their wives Melania and Akie will attend a banquet. On Monday, the U.S. president will meet with the Japanese emperor and empress and the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. He will depart Japan on Tuesday.