The upcoming meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump should build a foundation on which the Japan-U.S. relationship can contribute to stabilizing the Asia-Pacific region and maintaining international order.
Prime Minister Abe is leaving for the U.S. on the evening of Feb. 9. After meeting with President Trump in Washington, the two leaders will head to Trump's vacation home in Florida, where they are to play golf.
The economy and security are expected to be the two main issues addressed at the bilateral meeting.
It remains unclear what the discussion over the economy will look like. Trump has repeatedly made misguided remarks criticizing the "closed nature" of the Japanese automobile market.
Abe is slated to propose an economic cooperation package to Trump. By indicating that Japan is willing to contribute to infrastructure investment and employment expansion in the U.S. -- both of which are of great important to Trump -- Abe is probably hoping to evade criticism on the U.S. trade deficit with Japan.
However, giving off the impression that Japan will abide U.S. demands when Japan is not at fault could effectively serve as a green light for Trump to make even more unfair demands.
Abe should not be quick to enter Trump's uneven playing field. The prime minister should thoroughly explain to Trump how his protectionism toward the U.S. market will not ultimately benefit his country, and seek his understanding on the importance of a free trade framework.
As for the issue of security, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, on his recent visit to Japan, made an effort to eliminate Japanese fears by saying that the U.S. military's responsibility for defending Japan as stipulated by Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by both Japan and China.
The Trump administration, however, has shown that there are differences of opinion between the president and members of his Cabinet. At the bilateral summit, Abe needs to confirm Trump's own views on the Japan-U.S. security arrangement. And in addition to issues relating to China, North Korea, and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, we'd like the two leaders to discuss their views on the circumstances surrounding Russia, the Middle East and Europe.
The upcoming meeting is not just about Japan and the U.S. The entire world is watching to see whether Japan is going to be thrust into the apparatus by which Trump's slogan of "America First" will be fulfilled, or whether Japan will serve the role of a guide toward international cooperation.
Leaders must first build personal relationships of trust with each other. Our hope is that Abe and Trump build a relationship in which they can say what needs to be said, and make counterarguments when they are warranted. And through a trusting relationship between the two, and with the cooperation of other countries, Japan must urge the U.S. to continue taking an active part in maintaining world order.
Strengthening the Japan-U.S. relationship is important. But the Trump administration is unlike U.S. administrations of the past. If Japan conforms to the Trump administration's unreasonable assertions, it runs the risk of ruining its reputation internationally. We urge Prime Minister Abe to be aware of that risk.