Trump Hard to Deal with, Abe Urgently Wants Better Relations with ChinaPosted: November 23, 2016
Trump’s demand for Japan to pay all the costs that the US incurs in maintaining US military presence in Japan to protect it is Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s great headache.
Trump’s firm opposition to TPP is an even graver problem. To get TPP signed by its members Abe has made some hard concessions and made great efforts to convince Japanese general public to accept. However, Obama has failed to get TPP accepted by US Congress while Trump has declared that he would scrap TPP as soon as he is inaugurated.
In order to bring Trump around, according to CNN report titled “Trump and Japan’s Abe meet for ‘very candid discussion’ in New York”, Abe met with Trump in New York on November 18 and had “very candid discussion” with Trump. Usually “candid” as a diplomatic term means that each side expresses his entirely different views without reserve in straightforward manner and fails to reach agreement.
Obviously, Trump insisted on his view that Japan only paid 15% of US costs to protect Japan while Abe insisted that Japan has paid 75%. It is interesting what compromise they will finally make. There must be an agreement in the end as neither of them want to break their alliance.
TPP is a disaster for Abe as in spite of the concession Abe has made, Trump regards TPP as utterly unacceptable and unfavorable to the US.
Previously, Abe is not anxious about the ASEAN plus three free trade area (ASEAN +3) that his predecessor has commenced discussions. He did not hesitate to cause much delay in the discussions when he visited Yasukuni Shrine to upset China and South Korea, the two major potential members of ASEAN +3.
After all US market is most important for Japan. China’s market is also large and has great potential, but ranks the second in Abe’s priority as after all Japan has geographical and cultural advantages over the US, Japan’s major competitor in Chinese market.
Abe’s promise to bring about Japanese economic growth was a major factor for his Party’s victory in Japan’s parliamentary election. He relies on TPP for expansion of market for Japanese products in order to honor his promise.
Without TPP, Abe has to seek expansion of market through ASEAN + 3. In order to make meaningful progress in the discussions for ASEAN +3, Abe wants Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to attend the Japan-South Korea-China summit for ASEAN +3 Japan will host later this year.
For that Abe has to curry favor with Chinese President Xi Jinping; therefore, SCMP says in its report “Xi Jinping, Abe meet briefly on Apec sidelines … but China and Japan give differing accounts of it”, according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, Abe invited Xi to meet with him on APEC sidelines. However, in order to save face, “Yasuhisa Kawamura, a spokesman for Abe, said the two leaders ‘stepped a couple of paces towards each other’ after a group meeting of 21 leaders on Sunday morning, and that the meeting ‘was a natural movement’.”
SCMP says that Abe told Xi during the 10-minute meeting that he would like to seek overall improvement in Sino-Japanese ties. He expressed his desire to have Li visit Japan for the trilateral summit, but Xi gave no clear answer to that request.
Xi is not less shrewd than Abe. He took advantages of Abe’s anxiety to set his conditions by saying “It is important to settle outstanding issues properly and increase popular sentiment towards improving ties.”
Abe certainly understand that by outstanding issues, Xi meant the dispute over the Diaoyus and Japan’s support of US deployment of THAAD in South Korea while by popular sentiment, Xi meant that Abe should refrain form hurting Chinese peoples’ feeling in actions related to Japan’s war crimes in invading China such as visiting Yasukuni Shrine.
Obviously, Abe is playing into Xi’s hands now, but he cannot help that.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on CNN and SCMP’s reports, full text of which can respectively be found at http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/17/politics/abe-trump-japan-meeting/ and http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2047836/china-japans-leaders-meet-briefly-sidelines-apec-summit