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Examining Abe diplomacy (Part 6): Abe traveled around world 38 times for negotiations

Since the inauguration of his second administration in December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has traveled to 80 different countries (setting foot in a total of 168 countries) under his diplomacy with a bird’s eye view of the globe.” He has flown a distance equivalent to going around the earth about 38 times. The Prime Minister aims to engage in long-term strategic diplomacy with his eyes set on the whole world, not only on bilateral relations with major countries.

 

Diversification of imports

 

This year, some steak and Korean barbecue chain restaurants added Uruguayan beef to their menus. The beef’s selling point is its high-quality red meat. This is the result of the agreement Prime Minister Abe reached to lift the ban on Uruguayan beef during his visit to that country last December. His was the first-ever trip by a Japanese prime minister to that South American country.

 

While this development pleased Japan’s consumers, it irritated the U.S. because its has left the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. With the TPP having come into force, beef from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and other nations is already entering Japan at a lower tariff than that on American beef.

 

The addition of Uruguayan beef further diversifies imported beef in Japan and further highlights the decline in the competitiveness of U.S. beef.

 

Speedy settlement

 

Japan and the U.S. reached a basic agreement on a new trade deal at the end of last month. Under the new pact, it is expected the tariffs on U.S. beef will be lowered to a level equivalent to those in the TPP. The agreement is in line with Japan’s assertion that it “cannot make compromises in excess of the TPP level.” Originally, the U.S. beef industry demanded tariffs lower than those in the TPP, but it seems the U.S. desired a speedy settlement so it can start to regain its competitiveness in the Japanese beef market.

 

When the U.S. withdrew from the TPP, Prime Minister Abe adopted the strategy of advancing multilateral trade agreements, including the TPP and the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, anticipating that bilateral trade negotiations would be held with the U.S. in the future. There is no doubt that Japan leveraged the experience it has accumulated in diplomacy as a bargaining chip in the recent trade negotiations with the U.S.

 

Influence on the Iran issue

 

Prime Minister Abe is also exerting influence on the Iran issue, a matter in the world spotlight today. In June, he visited Iran amid growing tension between the U.S. and Iran. He was the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in 41 years. Abe met in person with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, urging him to hold talks with the U.S. It is rare for the Ayatollah Khamenei to meet with leaders from the West. 

 

Prime Minister Abe was able to visit Tehran because he has valued the relationship with Iran from early on and has built diplomatic connections with the country. For example, Prime Minister Abe has met with President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly for six years in a row. In addition, this year marks the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

 

Supreme Leader Khamenei rejected Prime Minister Abe’s request and dismissed U.S. President Donald Trump “as a person not worthy of exchanging messages with.” Abe’s mediation was viewed as having “failed.”

 

Later, the U.S. launched a “maritime security initiative” in the Strait of Hormuz and called for Japan’s participation. Japan could have been caught in a dilemma between the Japan-U.S. alliance and the Japan-Iran friendly relationship, but Prime Minister Abe maintained his stance of prioritizing diplomacy.

 

The Japanese government conjectured that while U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo is advancing the initiative as part of diplomatic pressure on Iran, the Defense Department takes a cautious stance as it does not want to escalate military tensions and President Trump does not want to increase the risk of military conflict despite his uncompromising remarks against Iran.

 

During a Japan-U.S. summit held in Biarritz, France, on July 25, President Trump did not mention the initiative. At a press conference the following day, the President gave high marks to Prime Minister Abe’s diplomatic efforts, saying, “Japan’s Prime Minister has been very effective (as mediator).”

 

President Rouhani recently said that Iran has not ruled out the option of holding a dialogue with the U.S., and President Trump also expressed his positive intention to hold talks with Iran under certain conditions. Prime Minister Abe intends to again have [separate] summit meetings with President Rouhani and President Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly slated for late September to contribute to the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

 

“Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Iran will eventually pay off in the future,” said a Foreign Ministry senior official. “This is the first time that a Japanese prime minister has ever been in the spotlight regarding an international security issue.”

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