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Golf Diplomacy

How the new allied policy of the US and Japan will affect the world and Russia

For Japanese politicians, the business community and experts, as well as for their counterparts in other countries, Donald Trump's victory in the presidential elections last November came as a complete surprise. In light of the fact that the entire external strategy of Japan by the time of the elections had already been "sharpened" under Hillary Clinton, Tokyo without exaggeration experienced "shock and awe" from their outcome. There were good reasons for this. 

Golf Diplomacy
Photo: US Navy carrier Carl Vinson / photo

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
Firstly, in the Land of the Rising Sun they were very frightened by Trump's unexpected statements about the need for the key US allies in Asia - Japan and South Korea - to assume adequate payment for the presence of American troops on their territory. This raised doubts in Tokyo about the commitment of the American president-elect to the Japanese-American military alliance, which for many post-war decades has been considered the guarantor of Japan's security.

Second, Trump has accused Japan, along with China, of dishonest trade practices and manipulation of their currencies, which, in his opinion, creates a large America's deficit in trade with these countries and deprives Americans of a large number of jobs. The American billionaire, who suddenly became president, agreed to the point that he called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a "killer" who drags the yen down and thereby steals jobs in the United States. 

Finally, Trump said that he would withdraw the US from the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) - an agreement of 12 countries in the region on free trade, which was about to come into effect. The Japanese Prime Minister laid high hopes on him as an important external "driver" of his economic policy, called "Abenomics." Its ambitious goal is to bring Japan out of the quagmire of more than a quarter century of economic turmoil.

Alarmed but very assertive, the head of the Japanese government was the only foreign leader who managed to secure a meeting with Trump in New York on his way to the APEC summit in the Peruvian capital Lima back in November last year. It was an unprecedented case when the already elected, but not yet in office of the President of the United States, the political leader of the country meets with the head of a foreign state. The meeting was a kind of grinding in between the two politicians. On it, Abe managed to establish, as he said, a relationship of personal trust with Trump and relieve his worries related to the pre-election invectives of the American leader against Japan.

And during an official visit to the United States on February 10-12 this year, Shinzo Abe apparently got everything he wanted at the summit already with the "full-fledged" President Donald Trump. As the Japanese business mouthpiece Nikkei notes, cultivating warm relations with foreign nations is not high on Trump's agenda, as leaders of US trading partners, including Germany, Mexico and Canada, have already realized. There are two exceptions: the United Kingdom and Japan. British Prime Minister Theresa May became the first foreign leader to pay an official visit to the new occupant of the White House. This is because as Britain leaves the EU, a closer relationship with the United States becomes especially urgent for London - Washington's most loyal foreign partner. However, according to the newspaper, while May's visit was brief and business-like, Trump described his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe as "very, very good chemistry." Abe's three-day visit to the United States, the first since Trump's inauguration, was marked by an unprecedented level of hospitality. It included two consecutive dinners and a game of golf in Palm Beach, Florida, where the president hosted the Japanese leader at his winter residence.

During an informal conversation that made up a significant part of the visit, Trump gave assurances to Abe that the United States would remain committed to the bilateral security alliance. However, he did not mention a word about his pre-election criticism of Japan, either in terms of "free travel to Tokyo on the American security train", or in terms of Japanese trade and monetary policy. True, Abe's hopes to convince Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the TPP did not come true, and Tokyo was forced to agree to trade and economic negotiations with Washington on a bilateral basis. This is exactly what the American leader was trying to achieve. Since joining the White House, Trump has fulfilled his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the free trade agreement in the form of the TPP, of which 12 countries in the region are members. In return, he is seeking bilateral deals that the president believes will benefit US workers and industry in line with his "America First" slogan.

During the talks in Washington and Palm Beach, Trump did not address the currency exchange and car trade, for which he criticized Japan the most. Instead, he agreed with Abe to establish a dialogue at the level of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Japan Taro Aso and US Vice President Mike Pence on three areas - macroeconomic policy (primarily on tax and monetary problems), economic cooperation in such areas, as investments in infrastructure and energy, and bilateral trade relations. Abe also announced that the two governments will actively discuss the monetary policy of the two countries at the level of finance ministers.

During his meeting with the American President, Abe sought to gain Trump's understanding of the contribution Japan is making to job creation in the United States through investments in his companies. Indeed, in this respect, the situation has changed significantly compared to the 1980s, characterized by the trade wars between Japan and the United States. In 2015, Japanese automakers built 3,8 million vehicles on American soil. Together with parts manufacturers and dealers, they have created 1,5 million jobs.

Moreover, Abe traveled to the United States, preparing to “buy” the American location with an impressive $ 150 billion investment plan in the US economy and creating 700 new jobs there in areas such as infrastructure, high-speed railways and cybersecurity. But, as Japanese analysts note, it is not clear if Abe succeeded in straightening out the US president's distorted views on bilateral trade issues. The joint statement by Abe and Trump only says that "the two leaders remain fully committed to enhancing economic cooperation between their countries and throughout the region, based on the rules for free and fair trade."

Thus, the problems of economic interaction between the two countries, as is already obvious, will be raised later in the "framework of a bilateral dialogue", which the two leaders agreed on to discuss matters in the field of trade and investment. True, things will most likely not come to a Japanese-American trade war in the spirit of the 80s of the last century. According to a close aide to Abe, both leaders reaffirmed that the trade disputes of the 1980s were "things of the past." Nevertheless, the upcoming negotiations promise to be very difficult, and the Japanese media are already urging the government to firmly defend its position on them. They also warn that the facts presented and the friendship that has developed may not work if Trump suddenly gets into the mood that "all countries are using us." According to experts, Japan should be especially cautious, since its surplus in trade with the United States exceeds $ 60 billion.

As for the military cooperation between the two states, concern over Trump's statements, prompting Japan along with South Korea to pay more for the security alliance with the United States, was in fact already leveled when US Secretary of Defense James Matisse visited Tokyo one week before Abe's visit to the United States. Then the head of the Pentagon called Japan's support for American troops stationed in the country, a "model of cost sharing."

During their summit, the two leaders reaffirmed that the US-Japan alliance is the "cornerstone of peace and security" in the Asia-Pacific region. Like Matiss, Trump reassured Abe that the bilateral security alliance covers the disputed Senkaku Islands (Chinese: Diaoyu) with China. This assurance was previously sought by the Abe administration from Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, to make sure that the United States will stand behind Japan in a sharp territorial dispute with China over this group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. They are currently controlled by the Japanese.

At a meeting with the American President, the Japanese Prime Minister emphasized that building relations with China is "the greatest challenge of this century." During their communication in Florida, a significant part of the time was devoted to this country. Although details of the conversation were not disclosed, Abe is believed by the Japanese media to have explained Japan's position regarding China's so-called maritime expansion in the South China and East China Seas. In the light of it, he justified the need for an increase in Japan's military spending.

“The US and Japan must continue to strengthen their military alliance to keep China moving in the right direction as the country continues to strengthen its military capabilities,” Abe said. However, according to Japanese experts, while Trump is leaning towards a stronger alliance with Japan, the American president has shown signs of wanting to avoid too much damage to Sino-American relations. How the two allies, Japan and the United States, will reconcile their policies towards China remains unclear, experts say.

Indeed, exactly one day before meeting with Abe, the US President demonstrated his readiness to build positive relations with China. In a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he stated that he would continue to respect the One China policy, which views Taiwan and mainland China as part of a united China. Although a month earlier, Trump alerted Beijing by saying that he does not understand why the United States should adhere to this policy, pursued by President Richard Nixon and his security assistant Henry Kissinger.

During his talks with Trump, as expected, Abe traditionally raised the issue of the nuclear missile threat from North Korea, which, along with the "Chinese threat", has officially raised Tokyo to the rank of the most acute challenge to Japan's security. In this regard, the American president promised his partner that "the United States stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent." The DPRK leader himself added the tone of this statement, who, according to the Japan Times, "invaded" Abe's dinner with President Donald Trump by launching an advanced medium-range ballistic missile at a distance of 500 km in the Sea of ​​Japan.

As proof that he is not throwing words to the wind, the American president on April 9 moved an armada led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the shores of the Korean Peninsula. Considering the fact that Trump had previously explained to Abe that with regard to North Korea's nuclear missile potential, Washington has “all options on the table,” and especially the fact that the said armada withdrew from anchor in Singapore immediately after the US missile strike on Syria, the indicated action cannot but cause concern in the world.

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who among the world's leaders is most actively advocating a tough course towards Pyongyang, can not be doubtful, and will support this step fraught with a military conflict with unpredictable consequences, Trump. Just as he was one of the first heads of foreign states to unconditionally endorse the US missile attack on the airfield of Syrian government troops, Abe will positively appreciate this Washington action. However, as Japanese observers point out, such a position of the Japanese prime minister may cast a shadow on the forthcoming 27-28 in Moscow in April, his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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