Trump’s visit to Japan: Shinzo Abe pampers a president in a calculated way | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW

The Japanese government is showing its ingenuity in preparing an impressive state visit by US President Donald Trump. After arriving in Japan on Sunday, Trump will have a front row seat in the final match of a two-week sumo gala tournament. Instead of using the traditional floor cushions, Trump, 72, will sit comfortably in a chair. After the match, Trump will present the trophy to the winner, which has been personalized to honor the US-Japan friendship and is unofficially named the “Trump Cup.”

The culmination of Trump’s visit ceremony will take place on Monday, when the president meets with new Japanese Emperor Naruhito. Trump will be the first foreign guest to meet the new monarch.

The imperial couple will also host a state banquet on the same evening. Naruhito took over royal duties on May 1 from his father Akihito. When Naruhito’s coronation ceremony in front of heads of state around the world takes place on October 22, Trump won’t need to line up to meet the monarch for the first time.

Ego-caress calculated

With these special honors, Prime Minister Abe is trying to win the favor of the US president and strengthen the coalition between Tokyo and Washington. Unlike European politicians, Abe immediately tried to forge a close personal relationship with Trump and allay some of the President’s reservations about security and trade relations with Japan.

Read more: Next stop in Trump’s trade crusade: Japan

By stroking Trump’s ego, Abe hopes to get the US president to be lenient with Japan on the most difficult points in bilateral relations. The final piece of Trump’s itinerary demonstrates Abe’s tactics.

On Tuesday, Abe and Trump will travel together to U.S. Naval Base Yokosuka to inspect one of two Japanese Izumo-class helicopter carriers. Changes are planned so that both ships can serve as aircraft carriers for stealth bombers.

To strengthen its air arsenal, Japan buys 42 F-35B stealth fighters from the American aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Tokyo will also receive a delivery of 42 F-35A jets, which were ordered earlier, and an additional 63 planes of the same model.

Japan wants to avoid trade concessions

The visit to Yokosuka should remind Trump that Japan is a good customer of US military equipment. With these expensive purchases, Japan can reduce its trade deficit with the United States and meet Trump’s demands for “fair and reciprocal” trade. At the same time, Japan can reduce pressure from the United States in bilateral negotiations on a trade agreement.

“Japan aims to make as few concessions as possible in trade negotiations,” political scientist Sebastian Maslow of the University of Tokyo told DW.

It seems that the Japanese tactic has paid off. It took more than two years before talks began between senior US negotiator Robert Lighthizer and Japanese Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.

At their April meeting, the two negotiators kept the agenda limited to autos and agricultural products. Import quotas for cars and currency issuance were excluded.

Read more: Trump delays tariff decision on European and Japanese cars by 6 months

Japan also did not bow to the pressure to announce the conclusion of the talks when Trump and Abe held a summit on Monday. The United States has had no response to Tokyo’s demand to wait for the Japanese parliamentary elections in July before reaching a deal with the United States.

The United States wants favorable import conditions for its agricultural products from the Japanese, but this could have a detrimental effect on Japanese farmers, who belong to the core of the ruling Liberal Democrat’s electorate. To Washington’s surprise, Tokyo also expects a reduction in US customs for Japanese cars and parts.

The positions of the two sides diverge here considerably. No major deal is expected for Monday’s summit, other than a mutual commitment to see the negotiations through to the end. One potential deal on the table is Japan’s participation in a US space mission, for example, to the moon.

Reasons for Japanese trust

Japan’s self-confidence is bolstered by the fact that the US agrarian lobby is pressuring its own negotiators, as US beef and pork exporters have significantly lost market share in Japan.

On January 1, the Trade Pact with Ten Pacific Rim States (TPP-11) entered into force and on February 1, the free trade agreement with the EU began. Both agreements led to a reduction in import taxes on meat.

The American agrarian lobby would have been satisfied if it had obtained the same conditions. However, ahead of the summit, the Japanese lifted all remaining import bans on American beef as a sign of partnership.

Japan has its own agenda on China

In the context of the US-China trade dispute, Abe can be expected to act independently of US pressure. He has succeeded in establishing an independent Japanese position as trade tension between the United States and China continues. China is Japan’s most important trading partner and a key market for many Japanese companies.

In an atmosphere of thawing political relations, Japan and China wish to strengthen bilateral economic and technological cooperation.

Read more: Trump pushes Japan into China’s arms

An “iron curtain” cutting off Chinese technology and development from the world is not in Japan’s interest, even if Trump is pressuring Japan to support the US position in the trade war with China.

“Trump must pull Japan to his side in the trade dispute in order to increase the pressure on Beijing,” analyst Maslow said. But to get there, Trump must first reduce the pressure on Tokyo.

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