Wash­ing­ton visit may not boost Abe’s rule

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - By Li Ruoyu The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the school of his­tory and cul­ture, Sichuan Univer­sity. opin­ion@glob­al­times.com.cn

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe em­barked on a visit to the US Tues­day and it was re­ported that he will again play golf with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day. Abe pins hopes on golf to re­vive a bro­mance with Trump. “Golf diplo­macy” has been a char­ac­ter­is­tic of Abe’s diplo­macy to the US. In Fe­bru­ary and Novem­ber 2017, Abe and Trump golfed twice.

How­ever, be it the US with­drawal from the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship, or Wash­ing­ton’s direct con­tact with North Korea by­pass­ing Japan, “golf diplo­macy” has yielded lit­tle. Trump’s ac­cep­tance of a face-to-face meet­ing with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shocked Japan. Based on Japan’s re­sponse, the de­ci­sion was not the re­sult of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo. Japan’s Min­istry of Foreign Af­fairs felt the same sense of cri­sis as when lead­ers from China and US met face-to-face un­der the ten­ure of then US Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon.

Japan hopes to take ad­van­tage of the frame­work of Six-Party Talks to en­sure its in­flu­ence on the Korean Penin­sula is­sue. But Trump’s un­pre­dictable moves dis­rupted the plan. Hence Abe will likely high­light the frame­work of US-Japan al­liance and fig­ure out Japan’s po­si­tion in US North Korea pol­icy dur­ing this visit.

The worst diplo­matic sce­nario for Japan is that it is no longer re­garded as a big power by in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety. Take the North Korea is­sue. It’s ob­vi­ous that Japan was not seen as a party that the US needs to ne­go­ti­ate with.

More­over, Kim paid an un­of­fi­cial vis- it to China shortly af­ter it was re­ported he was set to meet Trump. Dur­ing his stay in Bei­jing, he em­pha­sized that “the DPRK[North Korea]-China friend­ship, which was founded and nur­tured by the el­der gen­er­a­tions of lead­ers of both coun­tries, is un­shak­able. It is a strate­gic choice of the DPRK to pass on and de­velop friend­ship with China un­der the new sit­u­a­tion, and it will re­main un­changed un­der any cir­cum­stances.” Kim’s China visit shows the great im­por­tance North Korea has at­tached to China and the US, in­di­cat­ing Japan has been side­lined.

The eco­nomic is­sue be­tween Japan and the US also de­serves at­ten­tion dur­ing Abe’s US trip. Al­though the trade dis­putes be­tween China and the US have given Japan some ma­neu­ver­ing room, Japan should not for­get that Trump re­peat­edly crit­i­cized Tokyo for un­fair trade prac­tices dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Trump has ex­pressed wor­ries over the US-Japan trade deficit, say­ing that Japan drops bowling balls on US cars dur­ing in­spec­tion to shut them out of the mar­ket and ac­cus­ing the Ja­panese govern­ment of de­valu­ing the yen to gain a trade ad­van­tage. The Ky­oto News warned shortly af­ter Trump as­sumed of­fice that slug­gish de­mand at home would make the Ja­panese econ­omy vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ter­nal shock and if a po­ten­tial change in US trade pol­icy height­ens un­cer­tainty about the global eco­nomic out­look, it could drag down the Japa- nese econ­omy, pow­ered by ex­ter­nal de­mand.

If Trump can­not get what he wants from a trade war with China, his next tar­get prob­a­bly will be Japan and the US must win against Japan, as for the US, los­ing once can be ex­plained but los­ing twice would be un­ac­cept­able.

Japan is on the list of coun­tries that the US would im­pose heavy steel and alu­minum tar­iffs. If Abe per­forms poorly and fails to add Japan to the ex­emp­tion list dur­ing his US visit, Japan will have to pay a dear price eco­nom­i­cally.

A chain of is­sues in the diplo­matic and eco­nomic fields have cor­nered Abe. If the US and North Korea reach some deal, this will not only af­fect Japan’s foreign pol­icy but also its do­mes­tic pol­icy. The Abe govern­ment has used North Korean nu­clear threats as an ex­cuse to ad­vo­cate con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion. If there is a break­through be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang in man­ag­ing North Korea’s nu­clear weapons, how can Abe con­vince the pub­lic to sup­port a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment?

The crony­ism scan­dal has dam­aged Abe’s rep­u­ta­tion. Abe hopes to take the op­por­tu­nity of his US trip to help him out of a do­mes­tic quag­mire. How­ever the eco­nomic price in ex­change for US po­lit­i­cal sup­port will be paid by the Ja­panese peo­ple. If the ex­pense is un­af­ford­able, the trip will not help him re­gain ap­proval but will be­come the last cause of his fail­ure.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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