Japan PM Shinzo Abe says wants to work 'hand in hand' with Donald Trump in Asia Pacific

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and US President-elect Donald Trump (right) pose for a photograher in New York in November 2016.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and US President-elect Donald Trump (right) pose for a photograher in New York in November 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a congratulatory message to United States President Donald Trump moments after he was sworn in, has said he wants to "work hand in hand to ensure peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region".

He added he hopes for a formal meeting with Mr Trump at the "earliest possible occasion (to) send a message to the world on the importance of the Japan-US alliance".

Mr Trump's inauguration ceremony, held in Washington on Friday (Jan 20), was given extensive coverage in Japanese media. Major news networks such as national broadcaster NHK and national dailies Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun all gave live rolling coverage of the speech that had taken place at 2am Saturday in Japan.

Mr Abe has been emphasising the need to strengthen the much-vaunted US-Japan security alliance, which he told Mr Trump was the "linchpin of Japan's foreign and security policies".

"I look forward to working hand in hand with you to ensure peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region, and to address various challenges the international community faces," he wrote in the message.

"I would like to further strengthen the unwavering ties between Japan and the United States, based on the relationship of trust between us."

Mr Abe was the first world leader to have met informally with Mr Trump - the 45th US President - just nine days after he was elected on Nov 8. Mr Abe referred to Mr Trump as a "trustworthy leader" after their closed-door meeting.

The Japanese premier said he had enjoyed their "candid exchange of views" during that meeting, held at Mr Trump's Manhattan penthouse, and hoped to be able to meet him again "at the earliest possible occasion".

 

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Jiji Press, quoting unnamed Japanese government sources, reported that the duo could meet at the White House in early February.

Earlier Friday, Mr Abe opened Japan's ordinary Diet session with a major policy speech, laying out his key objectives for the year. Referring to the alliance as an "immutable principle", he said: "In the past, now, and from now on, it is the Japan-US alliance that is the cornerstone of foreign and security policies of our country."

Mr Abe also said that the 70th anniversary of Japan's pacifist Constitution, drawn up by the US after its defeat in World War II, makes it an apt occasion to promote talks on revising the document.

He did not specify the articles he wanted to revise, but Mr Abe, who is known to be a right-wing conservative, reportedly wants to make Japan a 'normal country' in giving its military more powers.

This, experts have said, is a move that could dovetail with Mr Trump's desire for Japan to shoulder greater defence responsibilities.

Mr Trump had, in a series of unsettling remarks during the election hustings, questioned the importance of the Japan-US alliance and called on Japan to shoulder an even greater burden of costs to station US troops in the country. He also suggested Japan take up nuclear weapons, a prospect which is anathema to the only country to have suffered from atomic bombings.

And in another setback to Japan, a strong advocate for free trade, Mr Trump has said he will disavow the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that observers say is also strategically crucial to cementing US presence in Asia.

Mr Abe has spent much political capital in ratifying the pact, and on Friday became the first country among the 12 signatories to have ratified and completed the necessary domestic procedures for the TPP.

New Zealand has ratified the agreement but has not completed the domestic process.