WASHINGTON — The United States expects to “sustain and deepen” its close ties with Japan over regional and global issues, a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his Cabinet.
“U.S.-Japan relations and our alliance are stronger than ever, and we look forward to strengthening our cooperative efforts to ensure peace and prosperity in Asia and around the world,” the official said.
Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday in the latest effort to give a fresh image to his nearly seven-year-old government, while seeking to ensure stability by retaining his key allies.
The U.S. administration will likely feel “very comfortable with this lineup,” said James Schoff, an expert on Japan-U.S. relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Schoff noted that Abe kept the core members of his team, such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
The senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank also said the “continuity” of the bilateral trade negotiations seems to have been ensured as Toshimitsu Motegi, previously the economic revitalization minister and Japan’s top negotiator in the talks, has assumed the post of foreign minister.
While Tokyo and Washington are moving toward signing a deal later in the month, trade issues could still cause friction between the two countries as President Donald Trump has threatened to impose additional tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts.
“The impression I’m getting is that there’s flexibility on the Japan side that makes this (trade issue) solvable or manageable. On the other hand, Trump is very unpredictable,” Schoff said.
Other issues the Abe government may have to deal with include possible pressure from the United States for Japan to shoulder more of the costs of stationing U.S. forces in the country.
Japan’s so-called host-nation support, which totals nearly 200 billion yen ($1.9 billion) annually, covers costs for base workers, utilities and other items. As the current five-year payment agreement is set to expire after March 2021, new negotiations on the issue are expected to begin as soon as next spring.
With Trump seeking to cast Japan as a freeloader on security costs, Schoff said “tough” requests may come from the U.S. side over the issue.
But he noted that it may not be a matter of urgency for the Trump administration compared to the bilateral trade negotiations, which Trump has been eager to conclude ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.