Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Abe Offers Stability in Era of Disruption

In a week of foreign policy discussions with leading Japanese scholars, media commentators, Foreign Ministry officers and members of the Diet, the consensus view was that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, as he approaches being the longest serving post-WWII prime minister, is a significant and timely asset for Japan and the Far East in a moment of considerable turmoil.

In an effort to maintain continuity, Abe has centered his foreign policy around keeping a close and friendly relationship with Donald Trump, something that has eluded European leaders Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. He traveled to Trump Towers during the transition and was the first to play golf at Mar-a-Lago. Rumor has it that Trump and Abe spoke during the recent Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un. Trump primarily relates to leaders at a personal level and claims to be close to Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Abe may be the only non-authoritarian leader in the club.

The alliance is critical to Japan’s security and foreign policy goals. Abe spends considerable energy making sure Japan’s interests are represented in the North Korean negotiations, continuing to promote the benefit of a TPP-type, multilateral agreement, and arguing against tariffs and more payments related to hosting American troops.

Just as important as playing defense with the Trump administration is the Japanese effort at organizing the Pacific Rim to counter China’s expansion, while maintaining as positive a relationship with Xi Jinping and China as possible. Trump’s apparent discomfort with key elements of the 70-year old alliance has made clear to Japanese leadership that their own multilateral initiatives are needed and Abe’s longevity in office is a strategic advantage.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe Mar-a-Lago, Florida, April 17, 2018 | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

No comments: