In the last week of April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe embarked on a lengthy foreign tour. During its course, he visited several European countries, the EU headquarters in Brussels, the United States and Canada.
Officially, the aim of the trip is associated with preparations for the staging of the scheduled Summit of the G20 (i.e. the countries whose economies are among the 20 largest in the world). This year, the Summit will be held at the end of June in Osaka, Japan.
Nowadays, the G20 has become one of the most reputable intergovernmental platforms (perhaps, the only one). At this event, it is possible to at least try and bridge some of the differences, which divide the leading global players, on key issues to do with the world order, which is undergoing a radical transformation. The consequences of the 2008 financial crisis are at the heart of these problems, and are further compounded by “trade wars”, which are starting among the nations with the highest GDPs, and by volatility in intergovernmental trade and economic organizations, such as the EU and NAFTA.
Since 2008, G20 Summits have been held in order to resolve the previously mentioned issues. But originally, the G20 forum was established at the end of the 1990s with the aim of bringing experts together. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, which is claimed to have been caused by an overly rapid development of the Asian Tiger economies, prompted the creation of this forum.
Two months prior to the scheduled G20 Summit, the host of the event embarked on a tour to learn more about views, held by each of the main participants of the upcoming meeting, on items of the agenda, which is currently being drawn up. These key attendees include nations with the highest GDPs in the world, i.e. the USA, China, the European Union and Japan. We would like to reiterate that relations among these countries are currently strained.
Seemingly, a certain opinion about China’s views has already been formed in Tokyo, after representative delegations, headed by Ministers of Foreign Affairs, had met in Beijing in the middle of April. Undoubtedly, the Japanese always keep their finger on the pulse of the two other leading world economies (as well as its key trade partners). But, naturally, it would do no harm to have a look with one’s own eyes at what is currently happening in the European Union and the USA.
Especially since bilateral issues have arisen between Tokyo and both Brussels and Washington, and these problems are an integral part of the multi-faceted global game of chess.
We could note that there are two main reasons behind the Japanese Prime Minister’s “exploratory” trip to Europe. Firstly, ongoing issues related to Brexit are preventing the EU and Japan from reaping full benefits from their Economic Partnership Agreement, which entered into force on 1 February of this year. Japanese companies maintain broad ties of cooperation with their counterparts in Great Britain and on the European continent. In addition, for the United Kingdom itself, Europe remains a key economic partner.
Brussels and London have yet to agree on their future economic relationship, which makes it difficult for Japan to do business with either side. Hence, at the meeting with Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker that took place on 26 April, Shinzō Abe once again implored the leaders of the EU to do everything in their power “to avert a no-deal Brexit”.
The second motive for the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to Europe is that recently, China (Japan’s key geopolitical rival) has abruptly increased its focus on its foreign policy towards Europe. The PRC’s leader Xi Jinping and its Premier Li Keqiang have visited a number of nations in Europe not long ago. And although the PRC has been unable to reach an agreement, similar in nature to the one between Japan and the EU, as yet, it is still worthwhile for Japan to gather intelligence about consequences of China’s most recent activities in Europe.
With respect to China Shinzō Abe employs a strategy that can be described as a “tight defensive formation” in football terminology. Hence, the Prime Minister had to focus on Central and Eastern Europe during his visit. This sub-region has become more important for Beijing because of its plans to implement the European (i.e. main) component of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative (a key project for the PRC).
The main transportation route, which will link Europe to OBOR, will begin in the Greek port city of Pireas (and also possibly in Italy’s ports), and will traverse the nations of the previously mentioned sub-region in a south-north direction. In order to handle any issues that arise during the project implementation, the 16+1 forum was established. Its format changed to 17+1 during the last session in Croatia, which China’s Premier attended, as Greece became the latest member to join the organization.
Shinzō Abe was able to gain an insight into the situation in the aforementioned region after the 3rd (since 2013) “V4+Japan” forum took place in the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. Aside from Japan, the organization includes four nations of the so-called Visegrád Group.
Before crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the Japanese Prime Minister visited Paris. According to commentators, it was important for both Shinzō Abe and Emmanuel Macron to treat a very sensitive subject involving a corruption scandal, which the former head of the Renault-Nissan Motor Co. alliance, Carlos Ghosn, is embroiled in, with great caution during their meetings. The experienced politicians succeeded in this task and, in the end, agreed to coordinate their actions closely at the upcoming Group of 20 Summit.
Beyond the Atlantic Ocean, the first capital Shinzō Abe visited was, naturally, Washington DC. Here, the Japanese Prime Minister most likely heard impatient tapping of its key ally’s heels under the negotiation table in response to the issue “How long will these unfair practices remain in place?”. The New Eastern Outlook has reported on these practices on more than one occasion, and the guest, of course, knew about and understood the issue at hand.
This time around, Donald Trump chose to focus on the car making sector (one of various motives) in his accusations that Japan benefited from unfair practices in the U.S. market. Essentially, the U.S. President took issue with the fact that Japan exported assembled cars to the United States, and instead it would be better for giant Japanese automakers to produce vehicles in the USA. Incidentally, Donald Trump made similar statements about German car makers a few months ago.
The atmosphere during Shinzō Abe’s visit to Canada (the last stop of his exceptionally lengthy foreign tour) was completely different. Just as Japan, Canada has also heard its fair share of complaints from its “older brother”. These grievances have to do with similar “unfair practices” that the United States is forced to endure within NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement that came into effect in 1994).
Shinzō Abe and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were able to exchange sincere smiles in Ottawa, not only on account of their shared concerns stemming from Washington’s accusations, but also because the Comprehensive and Progressive for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) had entered into force. The key members of the CPTPP are Japan and Canada at present, because the United States abandoned this initiative. However, it now clearly regrets this decision.
Among various topics discussed in Ottawa, we would like to highlight the fact Shinzō Abe and Justin Trudeau “agreed to seek the rule of law in resolving” a conflict in Sino-Canadian relations, which arose after the arrest in Canada (at the request from the United States) of the chief financial officer of Huawei, and of two Canadian citizens in China.
Overall, the scope of the most recent foreign tour, undertaken by Japan’s Prime Minister, illustrates the serious preparations that the host of the upcoming G20 Summit has made before this event.
Vladimir Terehov, expert on issues in the Asia-Pacific Region has written this article exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”