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Abe and Trump: friendship is friendship, and tobacco is apart

April summit Japan-US revealed serious contradictions between the two countries

Abe and Trump: friendship is friendship, and tobacco is apart
Photo: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
At the end of the second decade of April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump spent two days together in the mansion of the American leader Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. This mansion is informally referred to as the "Winter White House". In the course of communication, including during the ritual party for golf that has already become for them, the leaders of the two countries diligently demonstrated their friendly relations. Informally communicated and their spouses.

However, the leaders of Japan and the United States could not hide the profound differences between their countries on the key issues of their relations. Moreover, Abe's hopes were not met that Trump would understand the concerns of his "Japanese friend" with understanding. Assured him of the full support in the international arena as a whole, Trump in the US-Japan bilateral relations remained true to his philosophy of America First (America in the first place).

This was manifested, first of all, in the approaches of the American president to the nuclear missile problem of North Korea and to the Japanese-American trade.

Apparently, Abe was shocked by the news that, with the mediation of the President of South Korea, Mr. Jun Zhe In, an agreement was reached between the US president and the leader of the DPRK on their personal meeting. It can take place in late May - early June. Moreover, Trump himself "dumbfounded" his Japanese friend in Palm Beach, informing him that the CIA director and Trump's candidate for the post of Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, secretly traveled to North Korea to meet with her leader and pave the way for the historic Trump summit with Kim Jong-Eun. Trump told Abe that the United States and North Korea "respected" each other, and added: "I think it's time to talk."

Such a turn in the US approach to North Korea was a complete surprise for Shinzo Abe, who repeatedly stated that now is not the time for a dialogue with Pyongyang, and it is possible to solve his nuclear-missile puzzle only by consistently increasing pressure on the North Korean regime in all azimuths. At the same time Abe insists that this decision is uncontested in the complete, irreversible and verifiable refusal of Pyongyang from its nuclear missile potential. To do this, Tokyo is actively creating a single international front of pressure on the DPRK, whose "engine" should be the "troika" of Japan-US-South Korea.

Without enthusiasm, Abe also accepted the agreement on the meeting of the leaders of the two Koreas in late April. In order not to stay away from the events rapidly unfolding around the Korean peninsula, the Japanese prime minister achieved the aforementioned urgent rendezvous with the American president in Florida. In addition, he did not rule out his own meeting with Kim Jong-In.

Most of all in Japan, they fear that Washington and Pyongyang will agree "over the head" of Tokyo on the elimination of North Korean ballistic missiles. They can "get", by some estimates, almost the entire territory of the United States. But then North Korea will have a large number of medium-range and short-range missiles, the range of actions which completely covers the Japanese archipelago. Nevertheless, making a "good face", Abe said to Trump: "I would like to pay tribute to the courage of Donald, who decided to hold personal talks with Kim." Already back in Japan, Shinzo Abe, after Trump, had to positively evaluate the sensational statement of Kim Jong-un about the readiness to suspend nuclear missile tests from 21 April. Although the Japanese prime minister also made a reservation that the ultimate goal is still the same - the complete elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

At a joint press conference in Florida, Abe, apparently without much enthusiasm, took Trump's praise of President Xi Jinping of China for his efforts to resolve the DPRK's nuclear missile problem. Because of the consistent deviation of the Chinese leader from the summits with his Japanese counterpart, Abe himself has not yet had a chance to talk with him personally about this issue. Pretty cool relations with Mun Zhe In also deprive the Japanese prime minister of the opportunity to frankly discuss this problem with the South Korean leader. For Abe, this is especially annoying, since, as noted, it was Moon who mediated in the scheduled US-North Korean summit. For the rate in foreign policy exclusively for the unpredictable Trump and the inability to build relationships with the leaders of neighboring countries, Abe is seriously criticized by his own media. In their view, this undermines Japan's influence in the region.

Analyzing the April summit of Abe-Trump, Japanese observers conclude that from now on for the incumbent American president, Japan is not so much a partner in solving the North Korean nuclear-missile puzzle as an economic competitor, with whom it is necessary to negotiate rigorously with the "unfair" trade with him .

Indeed, the unpleasant topic took the lion's share in the negotiations between the leaders of Japan and the United States. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump accused the main foreign trade partners of the United States of dealing in unfair trade and promised to rectify the situation if elected. In pursuance of his pre-election commitment, the US president in March announced the need to dramatically increase import duties on steel and aluminum from China and Japan, which are the main "culprits" of the United States' huge foreign trade deficit. In it, the share of Japan is about 65 billion dollars. To solve this problem during the two-day meetings, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump agreed to establish a new channel for negotiations.

Now trade talks between the two countries will be held at the ministerial level with the participation of the Minister for Economic Recovery of Japan Toshimitsu Motaga and US Trade Representative Robert Lightheather. The creation of a new structure can be seen as a step that somewhat softens the severity of the trade conflict between Tokyo and Washington, as both leaders have "lowered" it to a lower level. True, there remain disagreements about the content of the negotiations within the framework of the newly created mechanism.

The Japanese side fears that on a bilateral basis, it will be easier for the US to "twist" its trading counterparts than they could in the framework of multilateral structures such as the currently created Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) - a free trade agreement. In it, according to the original plans, were to enter 12 countries of the Pacific Ocean basin. However, shortly after the inauguration, Trump announced the US withdrawal from the TTP. Thus, he dealt a sensitive blow to Abenomica - the course of the current Japanese Prime Minister for the withdrawal of the country from a prolonged economic stagnation.

At the last meeting Abe once again urged the US to return to the Trans-Pacific partnership, saying that the CCI is "the best for Japan and the US". Trump, however, only stressed his intention not to return to the TTP, unless it was revised on very favorable conditions for the US, saying: "I would prefer a bilateral deal." As Japanese experts recall, such a method of negotiations the United States has repeatedly used to resolve deep economic friction with Japan in the 1980-ies. This was a period of fierce Japanese-American trade wars. In their opinion, this American practice is contrary to the spirit of mutually beneficial free trade, which is professed by the World Trade Organization, which was established in 1995.

In the course of the Abe-Trump summit, contrary to the hopes of the Japanese side, an agreement was also reached to free Japan from restrictions on its export of steel and aluminum to the United States. With a request to do for it in this regard, the exclusion of Tokyo immediately appealed to Washington in March, as soon as Trump announced his intention to impose protective duties on the import of these and other goods. Trump's refusal to his friend Abe, probably caused the latter a special disappointment in the light of what such an exception the US has done for its other important ally in Asia - South Korea.

In the end, the only positive Abe took to his home from Florida after meeting with Trump was that the US president had promised to raise the issue of the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea several decades ago during talks with Kim Jong-no. Abe calls this issue the most important foreign policy challenge for his administration. However, as the Japanese media pay attention, although Trump said "we will do everything possible to bring them back," he did not mention any specific plan to achieve this goal.

Thus, the very modest results for Abe's meeting with his American friend Trump do not contribute to the strengthening of the domestic political positions of the Japanese leader, shaken as a result of a number of recent scandals. These include the patronage of businessmen close to the Prime Minister in their dishonest land transactions, concealing the true state of affairs with the deployment of the peacekeeping contingent of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to Iraq at the beginning of the 2000-X and the sexual harassment of some high-ranking figures of the country that emerged in recent days.

As a result, in April, the rating of the Cabinet of Ministers Shinzo Abe fell to an unprecedented low level - less than 30%, and Abe's ambitions are re-elected in September this year for a third term as chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Victory in the party elections would automatically give him the opportunity to extend his stay in the chair of the country's leader until 2021. In this way, Abe Shinzo could establish a historical record for the Land of the Rising Sun - 9 years of continuous stay of one politician at the helm of power.
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