President Obama meets this afternoon with Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, for the first time. Associate Professor Brian Woodall is an expert on U.S.-Japan international relations. He says that there are more issues of substance on the table at this meeting of the Japanese and American leaders than at any time in recent memory.
One likely topic of discussion will be America’s role in the resolution of the smoldering territorial dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The dispute has ratcheted up tension in Sino-Japanese relations, and it is expected that Abe will press Obama to use American influence to resolve the impasse. The Japanese and American leaders likely will also seek to coordinate views concerning the possibility of enhanced sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear and long-range missile tests.
The talks will almost certainly focus on several other issues. Abe will apprise Obama of the present situation concerning the proposed relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma on Okinawa. The disproportionate burden borne by Okinawa in hosting U.S. military personnel and bases is a hot-button issue in Japan. It remains to be seen whether or not Abe will be able to convince local authorities in Okinawa to allow the relocation of the Futenma base (which is located in a densely populated area) to another part of the island. Former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama’s failure to do so resulted in the collapse of his cabinet. There is also the matter of Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a region-wide free trade pact advocated by Washington. With critical upper house elections scheduled for July, Abe will find it difficult to publicly agree to remove barriers that protect Japan’s small, but politically potent, agricultural interests. And then there is the matter of “Abenomics” and the bilateral trade implications of the sudden depreciation of the yen.
It will be interesting to see what comes of these talks.
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