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Editorial: How Japan navigates relations with U.S. and China is critical

The Japan-U.S. relationship is rock-solid — that is what has been communicated to the world and is the outcome of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan. We would like to see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, not show unqualified allegiance to the United States but to improve relations with China as well. That is Japan’s role.

 

The international order led by the United States is being rattled severely by President Trump’s “America First” policy. Even in Asia, there is great concern that the U.S. presence has faded.  

 

Through President Trump’s visit to Japan, the U.S. government aimed to eliminate such anxiety and to communicate America’s intention to continue to be involved in Asia.

 

As the two leaders celebrated the “Japan-U.S. honeymoon relationship,” President Trump showed understanding for Prime Minister Abe’s plan to visit Iran. 

 

President Trump pledged his cooperation in resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea and expressed his support for the Japanese Prime Minister’s initiative to meet with Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un without preconditions.

 

On the other hand, President Trump indicated that he does not see North Korea’s launch of short-range ballistic missiles as problematic, saying “it does not matter.” Prime Minister Abe’s stance is that the launches violate United Nations Security Council resolutions.

 

President Trump probably has not made an issue out of the missile launches because he does not want to do anything that could hinder holding a third summit with Kim that could lead to a breakthrough on the now-stagnant nuclear issue. It is worrisome, however, that Japan and the U.S. are not in alignment.

 

At the joint press conference after the summit, Prime Minister Abe announced, “We agreed to strengthen and expand cooperation to create a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

 

To promote the concept, Japan and the United States plan to invest as much as $70 billion in infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. This bears strong implications of countering the China-led economic bloc known as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

 

The fact that the concept of “Asia Pacific” has been expanded to include the Indian Ocean represents a hard look at China’s entry into the Indian Ocean. Last year, the U.S. military renamed the “Pacific Command,” which oversees the U.S. Forces in Japan, the “Indo-Pacific Command.”

 

It is fine for Japan to walk in step with the United States in handling China. Regarding trade, however, the U.S. is deepening its confrontation with China, and it would be imbalanced for Japan to exclusively take an oppositional stance alongside the United States.

 

The Japan-China relationship deteriorated at the time of the Senkaku issue but is now improving. Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to attend the G20 summit, which will be held in Osaka in June.

 

Japan is between the United States and China, and how Japan navigates relations with the United States and China can be regarded as the greatest issue in Japanese diplomacy. We would like to see Prime Minister Abe promote diplomacy that has a sense of balance.

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