27.11.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On Shinzo Abe’s visit to America

564534234232Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe’s weeklong trip to the American continent consisted of three consequent steps.

The first was a 1.5-hour introductory meeting with the US president-elect, Donald Trump, which was held at the Trump Tower on November 18, 2016, in Washington. The second was a meeting with the heads of a number of states on the sidelines of the current APEC summit held in Lima, Peru, on November 19-20. The third consisted of talks with the President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and his final visit to Argentina, which is the second most important country in Latin America.

One of the two key topics under Japan’s current foreign policy, which has been exacerbated by further developments in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was the basis for discussions conducted during the meetings on the tour. A second and no less important topic centred around the relations between Tokyo-US, its main military and political ally, under its new president. According to reports, both topics were exhaustively discussed during Sh. Abe’s meeting with D. Trump.

At the end of the meeting, the parties refrained from making any detailed comments, and only managed to give some general outlines and express each party’s desire to continue (probably after D. Trump’s inauguration) discussing the issues involved.

Important to remember are D. Trump’s notorious statements at the initial stage of the election campaign regarding his intention to disavow the US signature from the TPP agreement immediately after taking office, as well as the requirement for increased pay for the American military services, or to start developing their own nuclear weapons shocked the Japanese leaders.

Although these public statements (especially on nuclear weapons) were later significantly adjusted by experienced advisors in the election team, the original message remained the same. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for Japanese leadership to clarify their approach to the future US administration on these key issues.

There are suggestions in certain press media that D. Trump feels a personal sympathy for Sh. Abe. Apart from purely political motives, it turned out that the Japanese prime minister was the first foreign visitor to pay the US president-elect a visit after the elections.

Their meeting was attended by the former head of the DIA (US Defense Intelligence Agency) Michael Flynn, who on the following day, agreed to take the post of National Security Advisor, one of the most important posts in the president’s administration.

After the meeting, the leaders exchanged civilities. “The talks made me feel sure that we can build a relationship of trust”, said Mr. Abe. “It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop by my place to begin a great friendship”, said D. Trump.

This is not too much, even for the preliminary analysis of the meeting. However, the participants of these negotiations have hardly anything to hide. Details on possible new trends in US-Japanese relations shall be clear in no earlier than a few months.

However, the first comments by the Japanese media shortly after Sh. Abe’s meeting with D. Trump already expressed a good deal of pessimism about the future of bilateral relations. For instance, a Japan Times article ran “With Trump coming to power, Japan could pivot away from U.S.-centric policy“.

In addition, Japan has apparently already started to take into account the principally new aspects in the surrounding environment that is full of different challenges. Given the prospects of the withdrawal from the TPP of the US, which is the key participant of Japan’s key integration project, several scenarios for Tokyo’s further steps have already emerged in the public space.

The first one is linked to the intensification of the “ASEAN+6″ integration, which, along with ten countries of South-East Asia, includes China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. The main problem of this scenario is the absence of any signs that would indicate a reversal of the degradation of China-Japanese political relations.

The second is to continue the implementation of the TPP without US participation. The third option is a variety of the second, in which China and Russia are invited to the TPP “without US participation.”

However, it is impossible to rule out discussing Japan’s possible new options for integration projects “without the US participation” as part of a blackmailing process, and pressure on the process of the new unfolding global USA policy.

On the side-lines of the APEC in Lima, all 12 members of the TPP, including the departing US president, used their every effort to revive the project, which is now presently in a deep coma. The main actors came up with such clichés as “The TPP promotes US interests, economic dynamics and the importance of the Asia-Pacific region”, “If we stop the ratification process, the TPP will die, and we will not be able to then tame the growing protectionism“.

All this is starting to look pretty sad, especially against the background of the confirmation by D. Trump on November 22 that the US will start working on withdrawing from the TPP.

The increased level of uncertainty in the US-China-Japan triangle that has been caused by the results of the USA presidential elections encourages each of the “corners” search for possible new trends in the foreign policy of the other two parties.

As for Japan’s “corner”, three days after the meeting with D. Trump, Mr. Abe had the opportunity to feel the position of China’s President Xi Jinping.

The extremely concise statement by the Xinhua News Agency says only that the discussion, during which the Chinese leader “specified the established principles and position of the Chinese party on the development of China-Japan relations”, was “short” and was held “on the request of the Japanese party“.

The Japanese press gave more details. It quoted a good amount of the statements that Sh. Abe and Xi Jinping managed to exchange during the 10-minute meeting. However, both parties possess an air of good wishes. Both leaders expressed their certain hope regarding the 45th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations (to be celebrated in 2017), but five years ago, there was a similar anniversary that also entailed a lot of pleasantries.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Sh. Abe’s interlocutors in Lima again turned out to be Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, and James Soong, the Special Presidential Envoy of the Taiwanese new president, Tsai Ing-wen,

Thus, Sh. Abe once again clearly outlined Japanese presence in China’s problem areas associated with the situation in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Both leaders participated in the APEC summit whilst taking part in other important events. In particular, they visited a number of countries in Latin America almost simultaneously, which quite fits into the overall context of the Sino-Japanese competition for influence on this continent.

All the aspects of the Japanese Prime Minister’s American trip are directly relevant when looking at the official negotiations between Sh. Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin that are scheduled for December 15-16, 2016, as confirmed during the meeting between the two leaders in Lima.

Citing the Kyodo News Agency, Japanese press has reported that during the meeting with D. Trump, Sh. Abe discussed Japan’s position on the forthcoming Russian-Japanese summit. Worth noting is the fact that the Japanese Prime Minister had previously coordinated certain aspects of this summit, but only in anticipation of meeting with Hillary Clinton, who, as Tokyo believed and desperately wanted, was expected to win.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”


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