GP Insights # 55, 2 June 2019
Known for their close relationship President Donald Trump and President Shinzo Abe met this week in Tokyo ahead of the G20 summit scheduled to be held in Tokyo. This is in the background of their intentions to defuse tensions with Iran and North Korea. This trip, unlike the several others, stood out with its golf round, sumo tournament appearance, the new ‘Reiwa Era’ and selfies. The highlights were Trump’s meeting with the families of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea, where he promised to do what it takes to bring them back home.
Trump made two statements one on North Korean missile tests and the other on the war with Iran. He said that the missile tests of North Korea do not violate the UNSC provisions and said there would be no war with Iran; both of these contradict the stance taken by his national security advisor and his administration. What was interesting to note is that there was no mention of China or the trade dispute and the Abe-Trump summit did not produce a joint statement.
What is the background?
Abe is seen as one of the few world leaders in whom the ‘unpredictable’ Trump holds personal trust since taking office in 2017. This one did not see Trump making any drastic statements, a surprise considering his record in the past months. They did disagree on the Trump spoke for several minutes, possibly out of a prepared document in the news conference. His tweet after the visit was a simple, “Thank you Japan” and a 46-seconds video of everything he did while in Japan. The US delayed the trade issues and talks with Japan, Mexico and Canada until probably a deal with China was made. It looks like Trump wants to maintain at least a facade of a unified stance.
What does it mean?
Many experts were quick to conclude that Japan was the only country that gained from this visit. By the looks of it, Trump administration needs Japan on their side, considering the situation with China, their allies in Europe, Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. Japan has shown an intention to mediate in the trade disputes. Trump, on the other hand, has shown active support for the July elections in Japan and spoke about having to do something about the trade gap. One cannot call the visit only ceremonial because it shows, on the outset, despite drastic changes in the strategic environment, there are countries that Trump is capable of retaining good relations with!