The New York Post
November 16, 2016
President-elect Donald Trump already has a chance to prove wrong the chorus of foreign-policy critics who hounded him on the campaign trail.
On Thursday, Trump is expected to conduct his first meeting with a foreign leader since the election. It’ll be with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Good idea. Japan is America’s most important ally in Asia.
Abe is on his way to a summit meeting in Peru, and he’ll need to stop to refuel. So in a phone conversation last week, he and Trump decided to meet in New York. But on Tuesday, Japanese officials reportedly had yet to finalize the “venue and menu” with the incoming presidential team. (Let’s hope Trump doesn’t invite him for sushi at Trump Tower.)
Forget the menu; what’s on the agenda?
Almost certainly, it’ll include trade. This week, the much-maligned Trans Pacific Partnership deal was declared “challenged” even by President Obama’s national-security adviser, Susan Rice. That’s an understatement. The Japanese lower house of government ratified the 12-country trade pact this week. But in America, it was already in trouble before the election — and now looks nearly dead.
Japan and the United States are the top “partners” among the TPP countries who’ve spent years negotiating the pact, which is designed to reduce tariffs and create a trading bloc to counter China’s growing economic clout.
Trump led the charge against the trade deal during the campaign. But that doesn’t mean he’ll have nothing to offer Abe.
He might broach the idea of a bilateral trade deal between the United States and Japan. Trump has repeatedly said he doesn’t oppose trade, just deals that put American workers at a disadvantage. Now he can set a new course, protecting his protectionist flank while advancing an important US alliance.
Other Pacific partners will be encouraged to strike similar deals, so the strategic goal of reducing China’s considerable economic edge in the region and beyond is maintained.
And speaking of China, Trump can offer a more rigorous response than Obama has to its expansionist aggression.
Japanese leaders are livid with China for trying to claim ever more territory in the Senkaku Islands, a fishing-rich region long administered by Japan but which Beijing claims sovereignty over. Japan needs more assurances than it’s got so far that America is and will remain in its corner.
Can Trump provide them? Maybe.
True, the compliment-prone president-elect was overly pleased after a friendly phone call with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping last week. Yet, top secretary of state prospects Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton have long expressed principled solidarity with Asia’s democracies, and wariness toward China’s increased aggression and authoritarianism.
And remember: On the campaign trail, Trump said he wanted Japan and other Asian allies to shoulder more responsibility for their own defense, even suggesting Japan and South Korea could obtain nukes to counter North Korea.
Considering Japan’s Hiroshima trauma, that’s unlikely. But Abe may be open to other ideas.
The hawkish Japanese leader has long pushed for changes in the Japanese constitution’s Article 9, which forbids using the military to settle disputes. (But allows self-defense.)
Times have changed since the post-World War II setting in which the United States set those restrictions on Japanese military activity. Abe is calling to change the “antiquated” rules.
So in Trump, Abe can get an American booster for his proposed constitutional reform. And Trump can demonstrate his ability to nudge America’s partners to contribute to their defenses by allocating more resources and raising military budgets.
But Trump, who had vowed on the trail to rebuild the US military, will be remiss if he neglects to signal that the old America is back in business, ready to resume our primacy in steering global affairs. So with Abe at his side, Trump can say that, yes, we’ll rebuild our military, but also, our partners will chip in more than they have been.
A productive meeting with Abe, in other words, could do a lot to show that Trump’s campaign slogans can actually translate into some good in the world.
And who knows, Trump, accused of isolationist tendencies, may finally also put some flesh on the “pivot to Asia” — bringing to fruition a promise mostly unfulfilled by his predecessor.
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