Abe to meet with Trump as scan­dals swirl at home

China Daily - - WORLD -

Do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal scan­dals and sink­ing ap­proval rat­ings are weigh­ing on Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe as he headed to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago re­sort in Florida for two days of talks start­ing on Tues­day.

Be­fore board­ing his flight from Tokyo, Abe took the un­usual step of pledg­ing to clean up the mess in gov­ern­ment when he gets back. “As head of the gov­ern­ment, I’m com­mit­ted to deal with ev­ery sin­gle prob­lem re­spon­si­bly to un­cover the truth and squeeze out the pus,” he said.

Abe’s meet­ings with Trump may pro­vide a brief respite from his prob­lems at home and could even stem the slide in his pop­u­lar­ity. The two lead­ers plan to golf, as at their two pre­vi­ous sum­mits.

But this round of talks may prove more chal­leng­ing than the first two. Abe will have to over­come pol­icy di­vi­sions on trade and po­ten­tially Py­ongyang that have emerged in Trump’s sec­ond year in of­fice. A poor sum­mit show­ing could fur­ther un­der­mine Abe’s po­si­tion at home.

The Ja­panese leader’s ap­proval rat­ings have de­clined to be­low 30 per­cent in some polls as Abe has been hit by ac­cu­sa­tions of crony­ism and the mis­han­dling of of­fi­cial doc­u­ments by sev­eral min­istries. That con­trasts with the 50 per­cent ap­proval rat­ing he en­joyed at the time of his Tokyo sum­mit with Trump in Novem­ber, soon af­ter lead­ing his rul­ing party to a land­slide elec­tion vic­tory.

The mount­ing scan­dals have called into ques­tion Abe’s chances of se­cur­ing a third term as party leader this Septem­ber, which seemed as­sured ear­lier this year, and could even force him to step down be­fore the lead­er­ship race. Other party lead­ers with an eye on the premier­ship are ready to pounce should Abe fall, though he has bounced back from set­backs be­fore.

Abe’s aides hope that the meet­ing with Trump will show­case the lead­ers’ close per­sonal re­la­tion­ship, as the two sum­mits last year did.

“While play­ing golf, they can take time and ex­change views on a range of is­sues while deep­en­ing their re­la­tion­ship of trust,” Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga said on Tues­day.

Trump sur­prised Abe, and much of the world, when he an­nounced that he would meet Kim Jong-un, top leader of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea. That sum­mit was ex­pected in May or early June.

Abe will want to make sure Trump doesn’t cut a deal with Py­ongyang. As he left Japan, he said he would be re­it­er­at­ing Tokyo’s “max­i­mum pres­sure” pol­icy to­ward Py­ongyang, and that the “im­por­tant ab­duc­tion is­sue” would be high on his agenda.

Yu Uchiyama, a re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Tokyo, said Abe will try to make sure the two lead­ers are on the same page on Py­ongyang.

“Abe wants to con­firm their co­op­er­a­tion and elim­i­nate the im­age that Japan is left out of the loop,” he said. “He is also seek­ing to achieve a diplo­matic re­sult in hopes of turn­ing around his pub­lic sup­port.”

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