The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting with U.S. President Donald Trump this week.
But this time Japan’s PM has a few factors working against him.
Abe is facing political scandals and low approval ratings and depending on the outcome of this meeting Abe may be left with another foreign policy headache.
“Abe will have to overcome policy divisions on trade and potentially North Korea that have emerged in Trump's second year in office. A poor summit showing could further undermine Abe's position at home,” writes ABC News. “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 South Korean president, Moon Jae-in is meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in less than two weeks. Then, Trump and Kim are expected to have a meeting.
Tokyo is much closer in proximity to its enemy North Korea and has also taken a strong stance when it comes to denuclearizing rogue North Korea.
“Abe will attempt to use the personal rapport he has established with the US president over the past 18 months to remind Trump that any deal over North Korea’s nuclear program must take into account Tokyo’s concerns about the missile threat from Pyongyang. Tokyo has much to lose from an agreement that focuses on Pyongyang’s ability to strike the US mainland with intercontinental ballistic missiles and ignores the more immediate threat its short- and medium-range missiles pose to Japanese territory,” writes The Guardian. “Last year, residents of Hokkaido were twice warned to seek shelter after North Korea test-fired two missiles that flew over the northern Japanese island, albeit at very high altitudes.”
The White House has already taken an understanding approach to Japan’s concerns.
“The president has a great deal of respect for Prime Minister Abe’s views on north-east Asia security. He will certainly want to know what additional thoughts Prime Minister Abe has beyond what he has already shared,” said a U.S. administration official last week.
However, there is also potential for Trump to use Japan’s fears about North Korea to negotiate for some concessions on trade.
Japan was not excluded from the recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports either.
On the other hand, Japan has some bargaining power too.
“Strategically, given its robust military capabilities and hosting of approximately 50,000 US military personnel, Japan remains a critical player for regional peace and stability. Although Japan is legally limited in how it can use its military forces, Japan is the most important US regional ally. Its cooperation is needed for virtually any activity the US seeks in the region. The US cannot afford to lose Japan as a trusted ally,” writes CNN.
Trump and Abe have developed a close friendship. Abe was the first to meet Trump after his November 2016 victory, but it’s time for the leaders to discuss some difficult issues and how to achieve the goals they have in common.
“I think that President Trump and Prime Minister Abe have a very good personal and professional relationship. My understanding is that President Trump highly values Prime Minister Abe’s views,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington to Japan Times. “If the president meets with Kim and says he must eliminate his nuclear weapons, that’s good for Japan, and it’s good for the United States. On the abductees, yes, Prime Minister Abe will raise this issue with President Trump, and I see no reason why President Trump would not agree to raise this issue with Kim.”
Author’s note: With the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, Trump will be more determined than ever to reach a nuclear deal with North Korea. This would be a big win for him. But time will only tell if it will be one that will satisfy Japan.