Outlook 2017 East Asia: Japanese PM could be tripped up by Trump, economy

Mr Abe with Mr Trump in New York last month. Securing the President-elect's commitment to East Asia will be a key priority for Mr Abe.
Mr Abe with Mr Trump in New York last month. Securing the President-elect's commitment to East Asia will be a key priority for Mr Abe.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

This is the first of a five-part series looking at the key events and issues facing the world in 2017. Today, The Straits Times looks at East Asia and the many challenges the region faces in the coming months.

TOKYO • Japan enters the new year amid uncertainties over the course of its alliance with the US.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will see it as his key priority to secure United States President-elect Donald Trump's commitment to East Asia.

That means maintaining the alliance with Japan and having a swift and determined joint response to any challenges, said research fellow Ippeita Nishida of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

But Mr Trump's leadership, in itself, carries a potential risk to regional order, said analysts, noting his recent remarks about the "one China" policy or the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan, for example.

Professor Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University said Mr Trump's disavowal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact has also "pulled the rug from under Mr Abe because this was a central pillar of his foreign policy aimed at containing China, and keeping the US engaged in the region as a balancer".

 

These, as well as the threat of a more belligerent North Korea, have "put wind in the sails for Mr Abe to pursue constitutional revision", Prof Kingston added, referring to the Japanese leader's wish to revise his country's pacifist Constitution to give the military more bite.

Mr Abe continues to enjoy approval ratings of more than 50 per cent, but analysts said this grip on power could get shakier into the new year.

Even with Japan's weak and fractured opposition, Mr Abe's popularity could be impinged by any mishandling of issues such as Japanese military operations in South Sudan, and the continued economic stagnation despite the promise of Abenomics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Japanese PM could be tripped up by Trump, economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe