Donald Trump-Shinzo Abe summit: Why are they meeting and what they will discuss

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump are set to meet in Washington on Friday (Feb 10).
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump are set to meet in Washington on Friday (Feb 10). PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet in Washington on Friday (Saturday Feb 11, Singapore time) in the Oval Office.

The two leaders will also travel to Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to play golf.

1. Why are they meeting?

Mr Abe wants to talk to Mr Trump about trade and economic issues, which have been the subject of some critical Twitter postings and remarks from the president. Mr Abe is also eager to pursue a closer personal relationship with Mr Trump, with whom he shares some ideological leanings, including a resistance to immigration.

2. What is Mr Abe most worried about?

With Mr Trump warning Toyota of a "big border tax" on the company if it builds a new plant in Mexico and telling US business leaders that Japan purposely devaluates the yen for economic advantage, Mr Abe is concerned about how Mr Trump's "America First" policies could affect Japanese companies and the country's broader economy.

Now that Mr Trump has formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) multilateral trade deal - on which Mr Abe expended considerable domestic political capital - Mr Abe will be looking to sound out Mr Trump on the possibility of negotiating a future bilateral trade deal between the two countries.

 
 

3. How will Mr Abe try to persuade Mr Trump that economic alliances with Japan could also benefit the US?

He could point out that Japanese companies invest heavily in the United States. According to the Japan Business Federation, Japanese companies have directly invested more than US$400 billion (S$566 billion) in building factories and other facilities in the United States, creating about 1.7 million jobs for US workers.

Mr Abe has also indicated that Japanese companies or the government could invest in US infrastructure. He told members of parliament that he wanted to sell Japan's bullet train technology in the United States so that states could build high-speed rail links and create jobs doing so.

4. How have Japanese companies reacted to Mr Trump?

After Mr Trump attacked Toyota on Twitter, the automaker announced that it would invest an additional US$10 billion in the United States over the next five years, although it was not clear if that had already been planned.

In December, SoftBank, the telecommunications and internet company, said it would invest US$50 billion in the United States, a move that the company's founder, Masayoshi Son, said would create 50,000 jobs. Again, it seems the investment is not entirely new, but it comes from the Japanese company's previously announced Vision fund, a US$100-billion vehicle for investing in technology companies worldwide.

Other companies, including Sharp and Fuji Heavy Industries, have also recently talked publicly about existing plans to expand or build new factories in the United States, while Nisshinbo Holdings, an environmental and energy conglomerate that makes auto parts, said it would abandon a plan to build a car parts factory in Mexico.

5. What about the yen?

Mr Abe has said that Mr Trump's criticisms about the yen are "undeserved." It is true that the value of the yen has fallen steadily as Japan's central bank has injected cash into the economy, a policy that Mr Abe will most likely try to explain to the president.

6. Are there security issues the leaders might want to discuss?

On the campaign trail, Mr Trump assailed Japan for not paying enough for its own defence. But during Defence Secretary Jim Mattis' recent visit to Japan, he described the country as "a model of cost sharing and burden sharing" and assured leaders there that the United States would stand by its mutual defence treaty and keep US troops on Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan. Mr Abe will most likely want to underscore that view and ensure that Mr Trump agrees.

7. Can Japan pay the US more for defence?

Maybe. There are signs that Japan might be willing to pay or do more, but many experts contend that US troops are defending not only Japan but also the United States' own interests in Asia.

The Pentagon is budgeted to spend about US$5.5 billion to support troops and bases on Okinawa and elsewhere around Japan this year. Japan is set to spend US$1.8 billion to support the bases, in addition to at least US$4 billion on related expenses, including compensation for the communities that host the bases and money for relocating US troops.

Under its constitution, which was written by US occupying forces after World War II, Japan can keep an army for defensive purposes. But Mr Abe has said he wants to revise the constitution and expand the military. In August, his government requested the latest in a series of increases in military spending.