Mr. Abe Comes to Washington
Image Credit: Office of the Prime Minister: Japan

Mr. Abe Comes to Washington


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. today ahead of his meeting with President Barak Obama at the White House on Friday. The summit will be the first between the two leaders since Abe returned to power in December.

Abe had initially sought to make the U.S. the destination of his first overseas trip as Prime Minister but was reportedly rebuffed by the White House who said a trip would not be possible until after President Obama’s inauguration last month. As a result, the Japanese leader traveled to Southeast Asia instead as Tokyo looks to use common concern over China to strengthen ties with ASEAN member nations.

Abe’s trip comes at a time when Tokyo is facing a tougher regional security environment. Japan remains locked in a tense standoff with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, with few signs of a resolution in sight. The summit also takes place just a week after North Korea conducted its third nuclear tests, withmany speculating that it plans to undertake at least one more test in the near future.

The nationalistic Japanese leader has long been a strong proponent of strengthening the U.S.-Japan military relationship. Even so, the Chinese and North Korean challenges have made closer military ties with the U.S. a far more urgent matter for Tokyo.

Indeed, at Japan’s request the two sides announced they would consider revising their military treaty last November while Abe’s predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, was still in office. At the time, Japan had said that revisions were necessary because of “qualitative changes in the security environment” since the last time the allies revisited the treaty in 1997. Working-level talks began the following month.

The U.S. has long pushed Japan to increase its security role in the region by upgrading its military forces and loosening restrictions on what types of operations they can participate in. These views are shared by Abe and, as a result of Chinese and North Korean actions, a growing number of Japanese. However, Abe’s eagerness to expand Japan’s defense role has reportedly unnerved some U.S. officials, who— while insisting they still would like the Self-Defense Forces to embrace “collective self-defense”— worry Abe’s defense policies will further worsen tensions with China and other regional powers like South Korea.

In revisiting the defense treaty, Washington will undoubtedly seek to resist Japan pressure to make a more explicit commitment to the defense of islands that Japan disputes with its neighbors. So far, the U.S. has adopted a characteristically ambiguous policy towards the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, affirming that the Islands do fall under its defense treaty with Japan, while insisting it does not take sides on territorial disputes.

Abe’s visit will also have a strong economic component to it, as the Japanese leader seeks to revise a sluggish economy that also faces long-term structural issues. Abe will want reassurances from Obama that the U.S. will continue to support his aggressive monetary policies that have come under fire from some of Tokyo’s trade partners. Abe will also seek to convince Obama to support exports of America’s natural gas to Japan, which remains highly dependent foreign energy imports.

President Obama, on the other hand, will be most concerned with getting Abe to commit Japan to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the cornerstone of Washington’s economic agenda in region. The high free trade standards the TPP requires have made it the target of certain powerful interests groups inside Japan, especially the heavily subsidized Agricultural sector. Given the leverage the U.S. has over Japan as a result of Tokyo’s standoff with China, it should not be difficult for Washington to overcome this resistance to the TPP.

Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat. He is on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Kim's Uncle
February 24, 2013 at 11:29

An assertive and confident Japan under Abe will be China’s worse nightmare! Given the historical experience of china n Japan clashing, I don’t think china can be re -assured how well they do versus a people that have been trouncing over n over again throughout history! What’s funny is Japan is a tenth of the size of China but yet they keep getting their ass kicked over n over again! No wonder Chinese don’t dare to ask from the Russians the 400,000 sq km they loss to Russia. Pathetic! China can only be assertive against a 3rd rate power like Philippines or Vietnam.

John Chan
February 23, 2013 at 02:22

What is the difference between Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong-Un? None, both of them are attention seeker, and bellicose pest. Abe’s provocative statements against China in Washington has broken the international protocol of diplomacy, it proves Japan is not a nation respecting all the international law & norms & play by the rules of the games; Abe’s reckless behaviour indicates Japan’s Fascism and Militarism is bursting at seam, and it can’t wait to return to its destructive role prior to 1945.

Abe’s provocative statements against China in Washington is a replay of his forebears’ expertise, fabricating and creating incidence then expanding the incidence into full scale war in order to justify its aggression and atrocity against victims.

It is the time for the USA to come clean where does it stand, is it still on the right side to crush an destructive bellicose pest, or it has gone to the dark side as a godfather and accomplice of the Fascist Japan that hell bent to destroy peace and prosperity of Asia-Pacific.

February 23, 2013 at 01:57

" So far, the U.S. has adopted a characteristically ambiguous policy towards the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, affirming that the Islands do fall under its defense treaty with Japan, while insisting it does not take sides on territorial disputes."


This doesn't sound very ambiguous, they have been confirmed to fall under the MDT by those on top, that kind of answers the question. The US' obligations under the MDT are quite clear…Dokdo/Takeshima and the Kurils are another matter entirely though. 

But in anycase its hard to get more explicit in our assurances of defense, unless we go down the actual chest thumping route.


Leonard R.
February 23, 2013 at 00:23

Shinzo Abe might be the leader of the free world, by default. He's the only one I see standing up to Beijing. If TPP is the price of admission for Abe, he should take it. But if Washington still plays coy about the MDT – Tokyo should do whatever it takes to defend itself. 


I have zero confidence in America's new SOS. John Kerry will fit right in with all the self-important gasbags who inhabit Foggy Bottom. He's just moving from one gaseous chamber  - the US Senate – into another – the Department of State.  He's still in an environment where talk is a substitute for action. Kerry is weaker than Hillary and he's not half as smart. He'll be the intellectual successor to Madeline Albright. She was another old gas bag, just like him.



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