National / Politics

Deflecting criticism of Trump ties, Abe says 'no other choice' but close Japan-U.S. relationship

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Citing growing military threats from China and North Korea, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that Tokyo must maintain close ties with U.S. President Donald Trump because the United States realistically is the only country that can effectively defend Japan if it were attacked by a third country.

Abe’s push to build a close and personal relationship with Trump has drawn criticism from home and abroad. Still, the prime minister has kept mum on controversies stirred up by the Trump administration, including the U.S. travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

Asked about risks of cozying up with Trump, Abe said he believes “there is no other choice” for Japan but to “demonstrate a close relationship with President Trump to the world.”

“Japan is located in the Asia-Pacific region, where the security environment is becoming increasingly severe,” Abe told a Lower House Budget Committee. “It is only the U.S. that can defend Japan” should Pyongyang ever attack the country with ballistic missiles.

Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty obliges the two countries to jointly defend Japan-administered territories in the event of an attack by a third country.

“We have Article 5, but whether (the U.S.) would definitely retaliate or not is always an issue,” Abe said.

“So the relationship of trust is needed. At least (other countries) should believe that the top leaders (of the U.S. and Japan) have a trusting relationship” to deter any future attacks against Japan, Abe said.

During the same session, Abe highlighted China’s increasingly assertive maritime moves, saying that it is now “attempting to unilaterally change the status quo in the East and South China seas.”

“At such a time, to protect the peace and stability of Japan and the region, we need to show that the Japan-U.S. alliance is unshakable,” he said.

During the summit in Washington, Trump said Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty would be applied to the Senkakus in the East China Sea, and the pledge was also reaffirmed in a joint statement.

The Senkakus, known as the Diaoyus in China, are claimed by China and Taiwan and have been considered a potential flash point for military clashes between the two Asian giants. Beijing regularly sends government ships near the islets.

Abe also said the two leaders will have bilateral summit meetings on the sidelines of every multilateral diplomatic event. Trump agreed to give Japan “top priority” in arranging such bilateral sessions, Abe said.

During his trip to Washington and Florida over the weekend, Abe had long meetings with Trump and his aides, while also playing golf for several hours with the U.S. leader.

In those meetings, Abe presented Japan’s views on economic and trade issues involving the two countries, including those concerning Japanese automakers and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Trump did not strongly argue against any of them, according to Abe.

Abe also explained to Trump that some automobiles assembled by Japanese carmakers in the U.S. use more components procured within the United States than those made by the “Big Three” car companies — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Trump did not particularly argue against that explanation, either, Abe said.