Amid growing tensions in the North Korean situation, it was significant for Japan and the United States to demonstrate their strong solidarity both at home and abroad. It is hoped that the move will enhance the stability and growth of the Asia-Pacific region.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with visiting U.S. President Donald Trump, marking their fifth meeting ever. They dined together on four occasions this time.
Their mutual trust has further deepened. A relationship in which they can be candid with each other will benefit Japan’s foreign policy.
Involving China vital
With respect to North Korea, the prime minister and Trump agreed on a policy of cooperating with the international community to exert maximum pressure on that country through every possible means.
At a joint press conference, the prime minister expressed a policy of adding to the list of items subject to asset freezing. Trump also said, “The era of strategic patience is over.”
The present condition due to North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile development could undermine regional security and bring about a highly explosive situation. Priority should be placed on steadily implementing sanctions adopted against the North by the U.N. Security Council.
The two leaders reconfirmed that China, a backer of North Korea, needs to play a major role in reinforcing pressure on that nation.
China’s active involvement in this issue is indispensable to diplomatic measures pressing North Korea to eventually reverse its policy.
In preparation for any unforeseen situation, it is also important to increase a deterrent to the North.
“Japan must increase its defense capability both quantitatively and qualitatively,” the prime minister said. Trump emphasized it would be possible to “shoot them [North Korean missiles] out of the sky when he [Abe] completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States.”
Japan is scheduled to buy a ground-based Aegis Ashore systems and other U.S.-made high-performance equipment in the future. Many of these items are highly expensive. To gain the understanding of the public, it is essential to purchase them at a reasonable price.
The two leaders also played golf together. They are said to have exchanged in-depth opinions in a relaxed atmosphere. Facing each other across a desk to conduct negotiations is not the one and only form of diplomacy. Criticisms leveled at them by opposition parties and others are irrelevant.
Trump also met Hitomi Soga, one of the abduction victims, and victims’ families, including that of Megumi Yokota. “We will work with the prime minister; we will try to get them back to where they want to be,” he said.
For the families, this must have come as an encouraging message. North Korea has also been detaining U.S. citizens. Momentum for solving the issue should be enhanced by the cooperation between Japan and the United States.
Both leaders confirmed the policy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy,” a diplomatic guideline shared in common by Japan and the United States.
Under the policy, the region stretching from Asia down to Africa is envisioned as a “place that values freedom, the rule of law and the market economy.” Four countries, which also include India and Australia, will promote security cooperation.
As there were concerns about the inward-looking posture of the Trump administration, a continuation of the policy to attach importance to Asia taken by the previous administration of U.S. President Barack Obama deserves a positive appraisal. It could also lead to holding China in check at a time when that country is militarizing the South China Sea.
In the economic sector, the issue of the Japan-U.S. trade imbalance has become a focal point.
Look beyond deficits
Regarding U.S. trade with Japan, Trump said the United States has to “eliminate our chronic trade imbalances and deficits with Japan.” He strongly hinted at pursuing a policy of seeking concrete results in order to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan.
At a meeting with Japanese and U.S. business leaders, Trump said that “our trade with Japan is not fair and not open.”
It is worrisome that Trump emphasizes the balance of the results, namely in trade balance, rather than fairness of opportunity through free trade.
Automotive related import accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. Meanwhile, imports of U.S.-made automobiles to Japan are free of duty, but the United States imposes a 2.5% import tariffs on cars assembled in Japan. So rather, it is Japanese-made automobiles that have been placed under unfavorable conditions.
The imbalance in automobile trade has much to do with the choice of products, thus being also in line, on certain aspects, with consumers’ interests. Simply carping at trade deficit numbers without looking at these realities is utterly anachronistic, reminiscent of the Japan-U.S. trade friction seen until the 1990s.
Forcing Japan to take such actions as restricting its exports would not have a positive effect. It is reasonable that Abe emphasized that “I, together with President Trump, shall work not only in the field of bilateral trade, but also lead in the high-standard rulemaking broadly in the Asia-Pacific region.”
The U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement shook the foundations of that accord. China, which is negative toward high-standard trade rules, is raising its profile in the region.
At the meeting later this week of the leaders of Japan and 10 other signatories to the TPP trade pact, excluding the United States, the countries will aim to reach a broad agreement toward having the accord come into effect, without Washington. While taking the lead in the negotiations, Japan also needs to tenaciously make approaches to Washington so as to have the United States return to a regional free trade system.