Abe's US visit offers hope of stable ties

Japanese PM seeks to secure cooperation in trade and security at meeting with Trump

Mr Abe and his wife Akie Matsuzaki arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, outside Washington, on Thursday. Ties between Japan and the US have been clouded by uncertainty due to trade issues.
Mr Abe and his wife Akie Matsuzaki arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, outside Washington, on Thursday. Ties between Japan and the US have been clouded by uncertainty due to trade issues.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US President Donald Trump's meeting and subsequent golf game with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mr Trump's personal resort in Palm Beach, Florida, offers hope for new deals and stable relations amid strains in ties between the United States and its Asian ally.

Mr Abemet the US leader yesterday bearing gifts - that of investments that could create up to 700,000 more jobs - playing directly to Mr Trump's campaign promises.

Japanese media reports say Mr Abe's proposals focus on bilateral cooperation in infrastructure - for instance, high-speed rail as well as robotics and artificial intelligence, cyber security, space exploration and buying more natural gas.

Ties between the two allies had been clouded by uncertainty after Mr Trump pulled the US out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which Japan was a signatory.

Mr Trump had also complained about how the Japanese buy too few American-made cars and criticised Toyota Motor for planning an assembly plant in Mexico.

He also accused Japan of helping its exporters by engineering monetary policy.


Last year, Japan had a trade surplus of US$68.9 billion (S$98 billion) with the US, second only to China.

But Mr Abe, who is accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, has said that he wanted to have a summit that "can send a message saying the Japan-US alliance will strengthen further with President Trump".

Mr Abe, who will emphasise that Japanese investment supports more than one million jobs in the US, will hope to get Mr Trump's assurance of American support for Japan's security and for both countries to strengthen trade relations.

"What Abe needs is to come away from this summit able to start a post-Trans-Pacific Partnership conversation about future economic integration with the United States, and an unequivocal security guarantee from President Trump," Dr Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Programme director at the Centre for a New American Security, wrote in a press note.

"For Abe, the US relationship is too big to fail, and by coming to Washington prepared to work closely with President Trump, the Prime Minister can realise his legacy goals of preserving Japanese power," Dr Cronin added.

Japan was reassured last week of US commitment to the US-Japan alliance by Defence Secretary James Mattis, who was on a visit to US allies Tokyo and Seoul, but Tokyo would want to hear this from Mr Trump himself.

The summit is important for Mr Trump too, said analysts.

"President Trump is likely to be judged for his statesmanship. Three weeks into his tenure, Trump needs to demonstrate that America is in far more capable hands than suggested by some critics," said Dr Cronin.

Mr Abe, whose grandfather, prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, once golfed with US president Dwight Eisenhower, is also keen to cultivate a close personal relationship with the new US leader.

Ms Shihoko Goto, senior associate for North-east Asia at the Wilson Centre in Washington, DC, told The Straits Times: "Prime Minister Abe has played it strategically.

"What President Trump needs is not so much a bilateral trade deal, but respect.

"The Prime Minister was the first leader to meet Donald Trump after he won the election, thus showing him that respect."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Abe's US visit offers hope of stable ties'. Subscribe