KYOTO – Senior business leaders, former diplomats and government advisers, and national security experts Friday warned that while Japan’s relationship with the United States is the foundation for regional security, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to forge a close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump carried risks for Japan’s international reputation and its own security.
As Abe prepared to hold talks with Trump in Washington and Florida, much official and media attention is on how well the two leaders will get along. But at the annual Kansai Economic Seminar in Kyoto, Abe’s budding bromance with the president came under criticism, with some advising that he get close — but not too close — to the controversial Trump and focus more on engagement with China and Asia.
“While personal relations between Abe and Trump are important, if Abe is seen as simply pandering to him it won’t be good for Japan. By just trying to accommodate Trump’s demands, Japan will be criticized by the international community,” said Tsutomu Takanose, senior vice president and deputy general manager at Mitsubishi Corporation’s Kansai branch.
Reiko Wakimura, an executive at a small Osaka-based transport company, was more worried about Abe, who is not known as a business negotiator, trying to cut a deal with the man who was America’s most notorious deal-maker before becoming president.
“If Abe ends up making a lot of compromises on (economic and trade) issues with Trump during their talks, Japan will be placed at a disadvantage,” she said.
Hitoshi Tanaka, a former diplomat who is chairman of the Institute for International Strategy at the Japan Research Institute, was also concerned.
“It’s not just about (Abe and Trump) playing golf and the state of private or personal relations. It’s about what Japan’s position is on the issues. Abe might say,’We have to play golf to build a relationship.’ But Japan has to show the world we have principles, and has to say what’s wrong is wrong, based on universal principles,” Tanaka said.
While there was almost unanimous agreement the U.S.-Japan security relationship should continue to be the foundation of bilateral and regional security, opinions were divided on how to balance Japan’s relationship with the U.S. in the Trump era against the rise of China.
Tanaka pointed out that China’s importance to Japan as a major trading partner and source of foreign tourism revenue makes it critical for Abe to set up a mechanism for long-term engagement with China and deal with Beijing in a more business-like manner.
“We have to focus on hedging risks. This means we need to understand what China will do based on correct information and a dialogue with China that also includes specific projects, such as environmental projects that benefit both countries,” he said.
Others wondered how effective engaging with China could be. Several participants noted China sends its top officials to Washington to negotiate with the U.S. but that those who negotiate with Tokyo often have nice titles but less power to get things done, a sign China doesn’t take Japan as seriously as it takes the U.S.
And some participants said the main problem was that Japan needed to be tougher, at least rhetorically, with China.
“Japan is, in many ways, too gentleman-like when negotiating with other countries. For example, we should make comments to China like, ‘The name of the South China Sea should be changed to the West Philippine Sea,’ ” said Shigeo Hirose, head of the Kansai Economic Research Center.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.