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Editorial: Japan-U.S. alliance should lead multilateral cooperation / Avoid needless confusion over trade issue

Japan and the United States should further deepen their alliance while also playing leading roles in promoting multilateral cooperation. The top leaders of both nations need to steadily fulfill their responsibility in this regard.


U.S. President Donald Trump has visited Japan as a state guest. He is the first foreign leader to meet the Emperor since his accession to the Imperial throne. “The bond of the U.S.-Japan alliance has become unshakable,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized at a joint press conference. “The alliance … is a cornerstone of stability and prosperity in the region,” the U.S. president said in response.


With the advent of the Reiwa era, it is hoped that bilateral cooperation will be reinforced in a wide range of areas.


Rethink ‘America First’


The prime minister met with Trump, following talks between the leaders in April. During Trump’s trip, Abe has made every effort to strengthen his personal relationship of trust with the president on such occasions as golfing and an informal dinner.


It is important to utilize the ties formed through the unusually warm hospitality, not only for the Japan-U.S. relationship, but also for the promotion of international cooperation.


It is seriously worrying to note that relations between the United States and its European allies are being strained due to the “America First” policy advocated by Trump. The unity of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is being shaken.


A situation in which the United States could become isolated is undesirable for Japan, with which it has deep relations in security and economic areas.


The prime minister should tenaciously explain the importance of cooperating with the international community to Trump, who tends to be inward-looking.


In late June, the Group of 20 major economies will hold a summit meeting in Osaka. In August, summit talks among the Group of Seven advanced countries will take place in France. On these occasions, Japan must demonstrate its coordinating abilities to prevent antagonism between the United States and other nations from becoming even more acute.


In the latest summit talks, Abe and Trump agreed to accelerate bilateral trade negotiations. It is important to avoid needless confusion and calmly continue constructive discussions.


At the outset of the meeting, Trump reiterated his intention to focus on reducing his country’s trade deficit with Japan, saying, “We’ll get the balance of trade, I think, straightened out rapidly.” “I think we’ll be announcing some things, probably in August, that will be very good for both countries,” he also said.


Japan must continue bracing for the risk that the United States may adopt a hard-line stance in trade talks, with a view to reaching an agreement at an early date.


Beware of tariffs


A trade balance can be affected by various factors, including economic conditions and foreign exchange. It cannot be controlled only through a bilateral agreement. Japan must continue to tell the United States that there is little point in insisting on reductions in the trade deficit.


Trump intimated in mid-May that the United States would impose punitive tariffs on Japan if agreements were not reached on limiting Japan’s automobile exports to the United States within 180 days. Japan must not be caught off guard.


The practice of urging a foreign country to make concessions by unilaterally setting a deadline on concluding negotiations while dangling the threat of sanctions could run counter to international rules. Even if numerical restrictions, such as capping the units of vehicle exports to the United States, are proposed, Japan must reject them.


During the press conference, Abe stressed that Japanese companies have contributed to U.S. economic growth since Trump’s inauguration, by increasing investments in the United States, thereby creating more jobs. Japan must repeatedly present such explanations to induce the United States to exercise self-restraint.


Taking into account the U.S. presidential election slated for next year, necessary precautions should also be taken for issues related to agricultural sectors. During the press conference, Trump made clear that the United States is not bound by the agreements under the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. There is a possibility that Washington may press Japan to take market-opening measures above and beyond what has been agreed in the TPP trade pact.


It is unreasonable for the United States, which has withdrawn from the TPP, to obtain more favorable terms than the countries participating in the trade pact. Any accords with the United States should not exceed the level of what has been agreed under the TPP trade pact.


During their talks, Abe and Trump discussed issues of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.


It is common practice in North Korean diplomacy to make piecemeal concessions to gain something in return. Japan and the United States must avoid making easy compromises and maintain punitive measures on North Korea.


Launches of short-range ballistic missiles by North Korea in early May violated the sanctions resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and cannot be tolerated. It is necessary to press North Korea to abide by the resolutions.


Maintain sanctions


With regard to the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, Abe told Trump that he intends to meet Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, without attaching any conditions. It is encouraging that Trump has expressed his full support.


Resolving the abduction, nuclear and missile development issue comprehensively is a policy advocated by the government. Holding talks with North Korea while maintaining this principle is necessary.


Abe told Trump that he will visit Iran as early as mid-June to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abe intends to act as a mediator between the United States and Iran, which are in conflict with each other over the Iranian nuclear issue.


At the press conference, Trump indicated that the pressure Washington is exerting on Iran is aimed at having Iran give up its nuclear development program, not regime change.


It is important for Japan to urge both the United States and Iran to refrain from provocations and to encourage them to solve the issue through dialogue.

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