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Analysis: Abe’s focus on friendship with Trump may backfire at home

By TAKETSUGU SATO/ Senior Staff Writer

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe overrode the concerns of government officials and insisted on visiting the United States to cozy up with President Donald Trump.

 

Abe tried to play up how close he was to the U.S. leader by not only holding a meeting at the White House on April 26 with Trump, but also attending a 49th birthday dinner for First Lady Melania. Abe’s wife Akie gave Melania special tea to mark the occasion.

 

Those efforts were likely designed to keep on Trump’s good side as Abe wants to avoid any negative fallout prior to this summer’s Upper House election.

 

With trade talks between Japan and the United States under way, as well as increasing calls from Washington for greater host nation support of its military bases in Japan, Abe wanted to avoid having Trump put his personal stamp on those issues to produce a result that could backfire on Abe in the summer elections.

 

High-ranking Foreign Ministry officials had noted that there were no outstanding bilateral issues that required immediate attention and feared there was danger the United States might use a visit by Abe as an opportunity to apply greater pressure on Japan.

 

They also cited the fact that Trump was already scheduled to visit Japan in late May on a state visit that will make him the first foreign leader to meet the new emperor.

 

Crown Prince Naruhito will assume that role May 1.

 

Those officials were proved right when Trump stated at the start of his meeting with Abe on April 26 that he wanted to sign a trade agreement with Japan during his planned state visit.

Rather than show any concern for Abe’s prospects in the summer Upper House elections, Trump likely was more interested in producing results on the trade front to help his own re-election bid next year.

 

Abe’s efforts to demonstrate that a honeymoon period still exists between the two leaders were not totally ignored.

 

Trump did acknowledge during their meeting that Japan had gone the extra distance by purchasing vast amounts of military equipment from the United States. But by following Trump’s calls to “Buy American,” Abe is getting on the good side of the U.S. president at the expense of Japanese taxpayers who will have to pay for those defense purchases.

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