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Abe, Trump agree to discuss post-TPP bilateral trade framework

KYODO/REUTERS

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in Washington on Friday to discuss a bilateral trade framework in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

In a joint statement released after the summit, the leaders said talks on such a framework will be included in their exploration of ways to both deepen their trade and investment relations and promote economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We will seek a trading relationship that is free, fair and reciprocal, benefiting both of our countries,” Trump told a joint press conference after the meeting.

While neither leader explicitly said whether that relationship should center on a bilateral deal, Trump has repeatedly advocated the country-to-country approach. He has taken issue with the size of the U.S. trade deficit with Japan and called for the Japanese market to be more open to U.S. automakers.

Even after Trump pulled the United States out of the 12-party TPP last month, Abe has continued to hail the strategic benefits of the deal, which notably excludes China from its signatories.

Japan will continue to “advance regional progress on the basis of existing initiatives,” the joint statement said.

“The president and I confirmed our strong resolve that we will create free and fair markets, based on rules, in the Asia-Pacific region,” Abe said at the press conference.

Abe appeared to caution against allowing China to dominate regional trade standards, saying fair trade means protecting intellectual property and not allowing state-owned enterprises to intervene in the economy using state capital.

Friday’s summit came amid uncertainty about how Trump’s “America First” agenda could affect Japan, which counts the United States as its top export destination and defense ally.

The leaders agreed to establish a new framework for economic dialogue, helmed by Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, to discuss cooperation in areas of mutual economic benefit.

“I am quite optimistic that good results will be seen in the dialogue,” Abe said.

He cited high-speed railway technology as an example of potential contributions Japan could make to U.S. infrastructure building, one of Trump’s key policy issues.

The leaders also affirmed their resolve to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. defense alliance, echoing reassurances made by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis when he visited Japan last week.

Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail last year had raised concerns that his administration might reduce its commitment to defending Japan unless the island ally coughed up more of the costs of stationing U.S. troops there.

Trump thanked the people of Japan for hosting the U.S. military and mirrored the language of the Abe administration in calling the bilateral alliance “the cornerstone of peace and stability” in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the joint statement, the leaders agreed that the United States will strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and Japan will “assume larger roles and responsibilities in the alliance.”

In a continuation of a commitment made by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the leaders confirmed that the protections of the countries’ bilateral security treaty extend to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The treaty obliges the United States to “act to meet the common danger” if Japan comes under armed attack.

The uninhabited islets are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. In the statement, the leaders said they “oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.”

Abe and Trump affirmed the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the East China Sea and called for the avoidance of actions that would escalate tensions in the South China Sea, where China has been increasingly assertive in pressing claims to disputed territory.

They also strongly urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Ahead of the leaders’ meeting Friday, Aso, who doubles as finance minister, held talks with Pence. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, after the two held a telephone conversation on Tuesday.

Later Friday, the leaders are set to fly to Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump owns a vacation estate. Abe said he is looking forward to playing golf with Trump.

According to the joint statement, Abe invited Trump to make an official visit to Japan before the end of the year.

“We have a very, very good bond — very, very good chemistry,” Trump said of his personal relationship with Abe. “I’ll let you know if it changes, but I don’t think it will.”

The Mar-a-Lago visit will be Trump’s first use of his Florida getaway for diplomatic purposes. It will also be the most time Trump will have spent with a foreign leader since taking power last month and his second face-to-face meeting with a key ally after talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May two weeks ago.

Trump hosted Abe at Trump Tower last year in his first talks with a foreign leader after his surprise win in the November presidential election.

Abe played down his chances in scoring better than Trump in golf.

“My scores in golf are not up to the level of Donald at all, but my policy is never up, never in, always aiming for the cup,” he said.

Japan has had lingering concerns about what Trump’s self-styled “America First” strategy means for U.S. foreign policy in Asia as well as what his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact means for bilateral economic ties.

Abe pledged Japan would help create U.S. jobs, hoping to persuade Trump to turn down the heat on economic matters and stand by the alliance.

To avoid questions about whether Japan is paying Trump for Abe to stay at the beachfront Mar-a-Lago retreat, the White House declared that the entire visit there, including golf, is the official gift for Abe from Trump.


The following is the gist of a joint statement issued after a meeting Friday between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington.

Abe and Trump agreed to:

  • affirm Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty covers the Senkaku Islands
  • oppose any attempt to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkakus
  • agree to launch high-level economic dialogue on trade, growth, other areas
  • vow to boost bilateral, regional economic ties through free, fair trade
  • oppose militarization of outposts in South China Sea
  • press North Korea to abandon nuclear, ballistic missile programs
  • agree to proceed with planned transfer of U.S. base within Okinawa