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NBR Voices: The Abe-Trump Summit in Washington, D.C.

Published on February 9, 2017

In advance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump has suggested potential policy shifts away from the alliance status quo in both the security and economic domains. In light of the change of U.S. administrations, what are the major issues that Abe might seek to address through this summit? What impact might the new administration have on the U.S.-Japan alliance? What goals might the United States hope to achieve through Abe's visit?

The following remarks from NBR experts identify the central challenges for the U.S.-Japan relationship and offer context for those tracking Prime Minister Abe's visit.



JAPAN'S FOREIGN POLICY



Japan has always been sensitive to shifts in the international balance of power. Today, we are witnessing many challenges to the liberal democratic order that the United States has led since 1945. Japan is looking to be reassured that, with the change of administrations, we are not turning toward a nationalist engagement with the world and abandoning leadership of the liberal order we created. Thus far, the Japanese are hearing very mixed messages. Japan's preference is to maintain a strong alignment with America, but without assurances of credible U.S. leadership Japan will increasingly move toward a more national foreign policy, one that offers greater autonomy and room to adjust to its perception of trends and the shifting balance of power.

KENNETH B. PYLE
Henry M. Jackson Professor of History and Asian Studies at
the University of Washington and Founding President of NBR



ABE'S ECONOMIC POLICY



Prime Minister Abe has brought a fresh new breath to Japan's economy, and a strong Japan lends strength to a strong America as well. We welcome him and look forward to a positive meeting.

SLADE GORTON
Former U.S. Senator from Washington State and Counselor at NBR



THE U.S.-JAPAN ALLIANCE



The domestic and regional concerns of Tokyo don't always align with Washington and vice versa, and some points of their relationship—U.S. bases in Okinawa, Japan's military operational capabilities, and methods of engagement with other regional states such as Russia—create grounds for continual debate between the two allies. Both states, however, agree on the overall picture and share critical interests. Their alliance and strong economies as well as militaries are more than ever fundamental to regional stability and international norms and practices. It was appropriate that Prime Minister Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with then President-elect Trump.

RICHARD J. ELLINGS
NBR President


POLICY ON NORTH KOREA



The prime minister's visit occurs as North Korea continues to accelerate its missile and nuclear programs. The first successful intercept on February 3, 2017, of a ballistic missile target using a U.S.-Japan jointly developed SM-3 missile variant—timed to occur during new Secretary of Defense James Mattis's visit to Northeast Asia—should help demonstrate the United States' and Japan's firm resolve to deter North Korean adventurism.

ROY D. KAMPHAUSEN
Senior Vice President for Research; Director of the Washington, D.C., office



DEFENSE TIES AND MARITIME SECURITY



The Abe-Trump summit is expected to set the tone for the alliance under the new U.S. administration. A consistent message from the White House on security issues raised during Secretary Mattis's successful visit, especially on Article V commitments and Japan's financial contribution to burden-sharing, can firmly set the relationship on a more productive course. On regional security, President Trump and Prime Minister Abe will likely find greater common ground on China's assertiveness in contested maritime spaces, especially given Tokyo's growing concern over China's "gray zone" tactics in the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

TIFFANY MA
Senior Director of Political and Security Affairs



TRADE AND INVESTMENT



Both Prime Minister Abe and President Trump have repeatedly emphasized that strengthening domestic economic outlooks is a central focus for their administrations. Unsurprisingly, there is significant interest around what both might say on bilateral trade and investment during the upcoming visit; such ties have long been an important part of the U.S.-Japan alliance and a key contributor to rising levels of prosperity in both nations. At the same time, there are desirable, fertile areas where our trade and investment ties can be deepened. Examples include articulating shared visions for how to foster healthy environments for enabling greater trade in energy and increased investment in infrastructure—and identifying the policies and tools to make these visions reality.

CLARA GILLISPIE
Senior Director of Trade, Economic, and Energy Affairs



ENERGY SECURITY



Energy security remains a vital strategic and economic concern for Japan as the country is 100% dependent on imported oil and natural gas. At the same time, the United States has the opportunity to be a major oil and gas supplier to Japan through its new exports of rising oil production and liquefied natural gas (LNG). It should be on the U.S. agenda to reassure Japanese leaders that the United States is a secure and reliable supplier of both LNG and crude oil. Washington needs to make commitments that it will not impose new trade restrictions on its rising energy exports to Japan.

MIKKAL E. HERBERG
Research Director, Energy Security Program



U.S.-ROK-JAPAN TRILATERAL RELATIONS



Although the United States, the ROK, and Japan have continued to make progress and hold official discussions on a number of other regional issues over the past year, the trilateral relationship will most prominently feature in President Trump and Prime Minister Abe's discussions about options for dealing with North Korea. With the United States and the ROK both focused on tumultuous domestic politics, Japan is in a position to be a strong advocate for the trilateral relationship and the importance of trilateral cooperation to U.S. interests on the Korean Peninsula.

ALISON SZALWINSKI
Assistant Director of Political and Security Affairs


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meeting with President Donald Trump underscores the critical importance of the U.S. alliances with South Korea and Japan. This report from a recent workshop examines challenges and promising areas for the three countries to address emerging traditional and nontraditional threats: Pacific Trilateralism: A New Narrative for Cooperation.



As Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with senior officials in South Korea and Japan in early February, he reassured these two critical allies of the United States' ongoing nuclear defense guarantee and security commitment. NBR publications offer background and analysis on these and other issues related to the visit: Background on the Issues

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