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U.S. ties, Abe’s election victory behind Asian nations’ eagerness to build relations with Abe

By Makiko Takita in Manila


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended on Nov. 14 his official schedule for the Southeast Asian trip to attend the APEC Summit and the ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings and will return home on Nov. 15. What became evident during this trip were efforts by the leaders of other countries to build stronger relations with Abe, who just won a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election and who has built close relations with President Donald Trump.


China showed the greatest enthusiasm in improving relations with Abe. In an unusual gesture, President Xi Jinping smiled at the beginning of his bilateral summit with Abe in Danang, Vietnam on Nov. 11. He even stated after the one-hour discussion that “today’s meeting will be a new start in the Japan-China relationship.” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met again with Abe in Manila on Nov. 13. It is extremely unusual for two summit meetings to take place in only three days.


A Japanese government source explained that “China has judged that with the close Japan-U.S. relationship and the landslide victory in the Lower House election, it will have to deal with Prime Minister Abe as Japan’s prime minister for the time being.” Another major factor is the fact that the Abe-Trump honeymoon is likely to continue for some time.


Abe met with the leaders of 15 countries and territories from Nov. 9-14.


Counting the leaders he met with at multilateral meetings such as the Mekong-Japan Summit, Abe had met with every Asian leader.


Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam, the APEC chair, hosted a dinner for Abe and other Japanese officials on the evening of Nov. 11, after the summit ended, in his hometown of Hoi An.


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who had just visited Japan in late October, shortly after the Lower House election, met again with Abe on Nov. 13. In addition to a bilateral summit with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, an unscheduled Japan-U.S.-Australia summit was also held, where in-depth discussions took place on the North Korea situation and other issues.


However, there had been concerns about Trump. Even though Trump had responded to Abe’s persuasion for him to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) because “Japan and the U.S. have played a leading role in the EAS,” he ended up not attending the summit and went home. Still, Abe stated at his news conference for Japanese and foreign reporters on Nov. 14: “We have absolutely no doubt or concerns about the U.S.’s involvement in regional security.”

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