TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed on Monday to build a “relationship of mutual trust” with US President-elect Donald Trump during their scheduled meeting in New York City later this week, which will be a key opportunity to calibrate the new American leader’s stance toward Japan.
Earlier on Monday, Abe dispatched his special adviser, Katsuyuki Kawai, to Washington for a high-ranking meeting with Trump’s close aides to collect up-to-date information on the policies and personnel choices of the incoming administration.
Speaking to reporters at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, Kawai expressed hope that his visit will “lay the groundwork” for a successful Abe-Trump meeting slated for Thursday.
For Abe, his first face-to-face meeting with Trump will likely serve as a litmus test of what attitude the businessman will take toward Japan after the formal transition of power on January 20 — and whether he will stick to a raft of bombastic Japan-bashing claims he made during the campaign.
While speaking to a special Upper House committee, Abe repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Japan-US alliance, calling it a “linchpin of our national security, diplomacy and economy.”
“We will go real deep in talking about these issues and I will build a relationship of mutual trust with him,” Abe promised.
One of Abe’s biggest concerns is the fate of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, which he has counted on to boost the stagnant domestic economy and give Japan a competitive edge over regional rivals such as China.
But a Trump presidency has effectively dashed hopes for the pact’s entry into force. The president-elect repeatedly excoriated the deal during his blistering campaign, dubbing it a “continuing rape of our country” and “death blow for American manufacturing.”
The likelihood that Washington will ratify the deal before Trump assumes office appears slim, too. Reports say Republican and Democratic lawmakers won’t advance the TPP — which would have become a legacy of President Barack Obama had it not been for Trump’s victory — in a lame-duck session of Congress.
Abe, for his part, acknowledged Monday that the TPP faces a thorny road ahead.
“To be perfectly honest, I do recognize that the situation surrounding the TPP has grown difficult,” Abe told the special Upper House committee tasked with deliberations on the deal.
But he nonetheless stressed that he hasn’t entirely abandoned hope — at least not yet.
Japan, he said, remains committed to its determination to ratify the pact and will urge other nations to follow suit.
“At a time when America unfortunately sees the rise of protectionist thinking, I think now is the time for us to take the lead and convince the global community of the importance of creating a free and fair economic framework,” he said.