America and its Asian Allies (Part I): Fairway Friends
Japan's Prime Minister Cozies Up to America's New President
Among the books said to be by the bedside of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, is “The Art of the Deal”, Donald Trump’s autobiographical ode to sharp-elbowed capitalism.
Mr Abe appeared to borrow from the book’s brashcredo last November: while the rest of the world was still gasping at Mr Trump’s election, Mr Abe jumped on a plane and went to meet the president-elect.
It was Mr Trump’s first meeting with a foreign leader after his election.
As a gift, Mr Abe brought a gold-plated golf club.
On February 9th Mr Abe will fly to America again, for a proper summit with the new president.
This time he is bringing an even more lavish gift: a plan to create 700,000 jobs.
The aim, the prime minister told parliament, is to help upgrade America’s infrastructure.
His plan involves Japanese investment to build high-speed rail links in Texas and California, to decommission America’s fleet of ageing nuclear power plants and to collaborate in the development of robots and high-tech weaponry.
Some of the money could come from Japan’s JPY￥135-trillion ($1.2 trillion) public-pension fund, the world’s largest.
Mr Abe has been jolted into action by the stench of protectionism wafting across the Pacific.
Instead of lamenting the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a giant multilateral trade agreement that Mr Trump killed as soon as he took office, Mr Abe wants to try to bag a bilateral deal with the new occupant of the White House, says Jesper Koll, a fund manager and informal adviser to Japan’s government.
Mr Trump, after all, has made positive noises about such pacts, which could salvage some of the substance of TPP.
The explicit quid pro quo for a shower of Japanese investment, says Takao Toshikawa, a veteran political journalist, will be an assurance from Mr Trump that he will not downgrade the two countries’ defensive alliance.
The president has threatened to reduce America’s military presence around the world unless its allies bear more of the cost.
But during a recent visit to Tokyo James Mattis, America’s defence secretary, labelled Japan “a model of cost-sharing” and gave America’s clearest pledge yet that its commitment to defend Japan includes the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea (known as Diaoyu in China), which Japan administers but China claims.
Mr Abe is hoping to bond with Mr Trump over a round of a golf at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private resort in Florida.
In this, as in so much else, the Japanese leader seeks inspiration from his grandfather, NobusukeKishi.
As prime minister in 1957 Mr.Kishi played golf with Dwight Eisenhower, the president of the day.
Three years later they signed the security treaty that Mr.Mattis has just reaffirmed.
Still, Mr Abe is taking a political risk by cosying up to a leader many Japanese distrust.
A recent poll in the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most popular newspaper, found only 8% of respondents expected relations with America to improve under its new president.
Working closely with Mr Trump will also further alienate China.
The biggest worry of all, says Mr Koll, is having to trust Mr Trump.