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Questions over Japan-U.S. relations under Trump dominate Diet debate

Democratic Party Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda, forefront, asks Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, far-right in the back, questions during the plenary session of the House of Representatives on Jan. 23, 2017. (Mainichi)

Both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and main opposition Democratic Party (DP) fired off a barrage of questions about future Japan-U.S. relations during the plenary session of the House of Representatives on Jan. 23 -- the first Diet debate since President Donald Trump took office.

Both ruling and opposition parties are paying close attention to how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will deal with Trump's new administration.

During the interpellation at the lower house plenary session, Democratic Party Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda said at first, "Policy changes by the United States will certainly affect the world's politics and economy." He then asked Abe about his views of the fact that Trump did not touch Tokyo's and Washington's shared values -- freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law -- in his inauguration speech while declaring a policy of "America first."

Prime Minister Abe replied, "Japan and the United States are unshakable allies bound tightly with common values."

Citing incidents where Trump put pressure on specific businesses such as Toyota Motor Corp. for their activities through his Twitter posts, Noda said, "The government should say what must be said when he (Trump) makes outrageous statements." Noda cautioned against Abe who was seeking to hold talks with Trump at an early date.

Without criticizing Trump, Abe said, "Many leaders are using social networking services." He went on to say, "I would like to insist on what I must insist on, including Japanese companies' contributions to the U.S. economy."

On Jan. 20, Japan became the first member country of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact to have completed domestic procedures necessary to sign off the trade deal. But Trump formally announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the TPP deal, and it would not be easy for Japan and other countries to persuade Trump to change his mind. Citing Abe's earlier remark that the TPP would be "meaningless" without U.S. participation, Noda asked Abe what he would do about the free trade deal. Abe then reiterated his government's conventional stance, saying. "We would like to seek the understanding of the strategic and economic significance of the TPP."

In light of the fact that Trump attaches importance to bilateral trade pacts, DP policy chief Hiroshi Ogushi raised a hypothetical question by telling Abe, "If Japan were to hold talks on a Japan-U.S. free trade agreement, Japan would be pressed to make more concessions than the TPP. They would be extremely bad negotiations."

The DP believes that now is the best time to go on the offensive against the prime minister while the Trump administration's actions remain unpredictable. Noda said at a party meeting ahead of the lower house plenary session, "The prime minister thinks that diplomacy and security are on his own ground. His administration will come apart from there."

Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai appreciated the talks held in last November between Abe and Trump and defended the prime minister during the interpellation, saying, "Our party has been sending many of our legislators and making efforts at various levels to deepen Japan-U.S. relations."

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