Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yasushi Tomiyama

【#421】Abe Approaches Key U.S. Officials to Persuade Trump

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2017.02.14 (Tue)

February 13, 2017

     The first official meetings between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump on February 10 and 11 made the greatest achievements that can be expected at present. Although Trump had repeated remarks downgrading the Japan-U.S. alliance, Abe got Trump’s assurances that (1) the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, (2) the UnitedStates provides Japan with a nuclear umbrella and (3) the Senkaku Islands are covered by the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty’s Article 5 providing for U.S. obligations to defend Japan. Furthermore, Abe successfully documented Trump’s commitments into their joint statement to prevent the commitments from being set back.

Ministerial meetings given weight
     The two major ministers accompanying Prime Minister Abe on his U.S. visit held talks with their respective counterparts to build close relations. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met and agreed to initiate a new Japan-U.S. economic forum on macroeconomic policy coordination, investment and trade. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed the significance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and the enhancement of bilateral cooperation. U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis held talks with Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada during his visit to Japan a week ago.
     These key Trump administration officials have a mainstream Republican view on security. The Abe administration may be trying to enhance relations with the vice president and key cabinet secretaries, expecting them to exert influences on the president. If Deputy Prime Minister Aso establishes close relations with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko does so with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trump may be discouraged from criticizing Japan for its alleged foreign exchange market manipulation and its allegedly closed auto market. Particularly, the initiation of the economic forum between the Japanese and U.S. No. 2 administration officials could help prevent President Trump from trying to make deals combining economic and security problems.
     In his direct talks with President Trump at the White House, Prime Minister Abe got the president’s commitment to giving great weight to the Japan-U.S. alliance. Later, President Trump invited Prime Minister Abe to his resort villa in Florida for golfing together and entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Abe with private dinner. The unusually hospitable treatment indicates that Trump favors Abe. However, it is still unclear whether President Trump really understood the significance of Japan-U.S. security and economic relations through the summit.

About-face on “One China” principle
     On the day before his meeting with Prime Minister Abe, President Trump held his first telephone talks after his inauguration with Chinese President Xi Jinping and vowed to honor the “One China” principle as requested by Xi, making an about-face from his pre-inauguration remark doubting the principle. This indicated that the earlier remark was not based on careful consideration and that his diplomatic remarks could be ill-advised.
     There is no indication that President Trump has cut his pet “deal” to honor the “One China” principle in exchange for Chinese concessions over bilateral trade imbalance, the South China Sea or North Korean nuclear problem. Trump diplomacy remains unpredictable. It may be too early to feel comfortable with his Japan policy.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.