Trump and Japan

Reality Check for Abe and the President

U.S. President Donald Trump Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and his wife Akie Abe (L) leave after posing for a photograph before attending dinner at Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 11, 2017. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got even more out of his February 19­–20 summit with U.S. President Donald Trump than he had expected. The question is how long their apparent goodwill can last, especially given the anti-Japan mood of much of Trump’s voting base.

During the meeting, Abe won virtually all the affirmations on security issues that he had sought, including a repeat of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s commitment to defend Japan if China tried to seize the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands (known by the Chinese as Diaoyu Islands) in the East China Sea. Trump also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the defense of Japan in response to a missile test by North Korea. In addition, Abe avoided being publicly criticized by Trump on any of the issues on which Trump had lambasted Tokyo prior to the summit, including accusations of currency manipulation and security freeriding. In fact, according to the Japanese press, “Abe led the conversation while Trump remained mostly a listener.” And prior to the summit, Abe had enlisted Japanese multinationals to compile a list of their already planned investment projects in the United States so that Trump could, if he wished, issue tweets claiming to have convinced Japan to create 700,000 new American jobs. (Thus far, we’ve seen no tweets.)

A Japanese official told the press that the two men spent no time discussing Trump’s pre-summit accusation that Japan was devaluing its currency, the yen, to win exports at the expense of American jobs. There was no mention of currency issues in the joint communique and no criticism from Trump on the yen or any other trade issue at their joint press conference. The closest Trump got was when he said, “I believe that we will all eventually—and probably very much sooner than a lot of people understand or think—be at a level playing field.” But that was in response to question about China, not Japan. During the Remarks, Abe also

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