In his first Diet speech since Donald Trump was sworn in as U.S. president, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday expressed his eagerness to arrange a summit talk with Trump “as soon as possible,” vowing to make what he called an “unwavering” Japan-U.S. alliance even stronger.
Speaking to a Lower House plenary session, Abe also said Japan will continue efforts to persuade the U.S. to get on board with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which Trump repeatedly branded as harmful to the U.S. economy during his bombastic campaign.
But the possibility is slim that Abe will be able to convince the new U.S. president to change his mind.
After the inauguration, the Trump administration wasted no time, issuing a statement that it will withdraw from the TPP as part of its effort to “put American workers and businesses first.”
Facing off with Abe, Yoshihiko Noda, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party, pressed for clarification on Japan’s response to the looming U.S. withdrawal from the free trade deal, reminding him that he had previously proclaimed that the TPP would be “meaningless” without America on board.
“I will continue to seek Mr. Trump’s understanding of the economic and strategic importance of the pact,” Abe responded.
Abe, who had described Trump as a “trustworthy leader” after meeting him in November, said his assessment of the businessman’s caliber still remains unchanged.
“When I met him back in November, Mr. Trump was firmly of the opinion that he shouldn’t behave as if he were the U.S. president already, because such an attitude would only hurt America’s national interest,” Abe said.
The apparent deference Trump displayed to former President Barack Obama “convinced me that we can trust him as a leader and my opinion of him hasn’t changed at all.”
Noda’s questions extended to a host of other diplomatic challenges facing Japan, from a decades-long territorial dispute with Russia over four islands off Hokkaido to China’s increasing maritime assertiveness and rising tensions with South Korea over the “comfort women” issue.
In particular, Abe criticized South Korea for reneging on what was seen as an irrevocable deal in December 2015, referring to the recent placing of a statue near the Japanese consulate in Busan symbolizing Asian women forced into sexual servitude by the wartime Japanese army.
“We will continue to persistently ask South Korea to carry out the deal in a sincere way,” he said.
Meanwhile, DP policy chief Hiroshi Ogushi called on the government to conduct a thorough probe into the recent amakudari (literally “descent from heaven”) influence-peddling scandal regarding education ministry officials. It was revealed last week that seven senior bureaucrats at the ministry were involved in illegally negotiating to find their colleague a post-retirement university job.
“This is something that significantly undermines public trust and it never should’ve happened,” Abe said, adding that he had already ordered scrutiny of all ministries for similar malpractice, vowing to disclose results promptly.
Ogushi also lambasted a state-sponsored effort to revise the organized crime law so authorities can crack down on individuals who merely conspire to commit a crime. The bill, which is expected to become a major source of controversy during the current Diet session, risks sparking abuse of power by law enforcement, he said.
Abe defended the bill as an indispensable part of Japan’s fight against global terrorism, going so far as to declare that the nation won’t be able to safely host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without its enactment.
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