Nikkei claimed that some GOJ officials are now hoping that the planned start of bilateral trade talks with the U.S. in January will be postponed based on the view that USTR Lighthizer, who is expected to head the U.S. negotiating team, will probably have to prioritize the trade talks with China that are set to conclude by the end of February. The Japanese officials reportedly project that what they refer to as “TAG” talks may not begin until after the conclusion of the U.S.-China negotiations, with one of them reportedly saying: “Japan would benefit from a conflict between the U.S. and China.” According to Nikkei, the officials are hoping that if Japan takes a tough approach toward China over such issues as telecom equipment procurement, it will help mitigate U.S. trade pressure on Tokyo. The daily conjectured that further escalation of trade friction between Washington and Beijing might allow Tokyo to avoid making significant trade concessions ahead of President Trump’s purported visit to Japan in June for the G20 summit.
Nikkei added, however, that other GOJ officials are worried that even though Lighthizer may be preoccupied with dealing with China, lower-ranking USG officials and the U.S. auto, agriculture, and other industries could still step up their pressure in the service sector. The daily predicted that Japan will have difficulty responding to possible U.S. requests, such as the adoption of a currency stipulation, a review of drug pricing, and a relaxation of food safety standards.