Less known in the US is that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is deeply mired in scandals of his own. Trump and Abe will hold their third US-Japan summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida starting Tuesday (April 17). The leaders will play golf, as they did the previous times they met.
Video: Top diplomats of China and Japan hold talks on handling North Korea issue, improving bilateral ties
The scion of a political dynasty, Abe hopes to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister by winning a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September. But that goal looks a little more elusive now than it did after Abe’s party comfortably won parliamentary elections late last year.
The finance ministry said in a statement on Monday that Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda had denied the allegations in Shincho magazine and vowed to sue its publisher for defamation. Fukuda apologised for causing trouble to the finance minister and ministry officials by inviting public distrust, the statement said.
On Saturday, protestors turned out in full force outside Japan’s parliament with signs reading “Abe quit” and “Abe is over.” Organizers put the number of protestors at about 50,000. Abe’s approval rating now stands at 26.7%, marking the lowest point since he took office in late 2012, according to a Nippon TV survey released yesterday (April 15).
Many who demonstrated suspect Abe of cronyism. One scandal drawing protesters involves the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to an operator of ultraconservative schools with links to Abe’s wife Akie. Last month the finance ministry admitted it had altered documents—including removing the names of the Abes and the finance minister—before submitting them for parliament’s investigation. Political rivals pounced, saying there was a cover-up and that the Abe cabinet “should resign en masse.” Abe has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his wife.
Former Japan PM Koizumi says embattled Abe may quit in June: magazine
Abe came under more pressure earlier this month over activity logs related to Japan’s 2004-06 military deployment to Iraq. On April 4, defense minister Itsunori Onodera told parliament he’d learned the army had found the records last year, even though his predecessor Tomomi Inada had told parliament they couldn’t be located. “Cover-ups are the basic nature of the Abe cabinet,” charged opposition lawmaker Hiroyuki Konishi.
Video: What Does Japan Expect from Talks with US Next Week?
Yet another scandal plaguing Abe involves suspicions that he helped secure preferential treatment for a friend setting up a veterinary school in a special economic zone.
Japan PM Abe to sack top finance official accused of sexual harassment – paper
At least Abe and Trump will have scandals, not just golf, to bond over outside their negotiations, which will focus on North Korea and economic issues. For Abe the fear is that Trump will try to wring trade concessions out of him in exchange for doing the things Abe wants on the security front.
The latest signs of trouble for Abe come ahead of his summit this week with US President Donald Trump, where the difficult topics of North Koreas nuclear and missile threats and touchy trade matters will be on the agenda.
Video: Japan Protesters Call for Liar Abe to Resign Over Scandal
Last month Trump surprised Tokyo by abruptly agreeing to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose regime has been antagonistic toward Japan. If Trump indeed meets Kim, Abe wants him to seek the elimination of all North Korean missiles that could reach Japan, not just long-range ones that can hit the US, and to bring up Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago.
But Trump is looking for victories, too, especially ahead of the November mid-term elections. He could press Abe for market access and monetary and currency policies more favorable to the US. He might use the steel and aluminum tariffs he recently imposed—and a possible exemptions to them—for leverage. Also, Trump recently suggested the US might join the Trans Pacific Partnership, which he pulled out of it early last year while it was being negotiated. Japan is opposed to any big makeover of the trade pact, which the remaining countries signed last month without the US, but Trump could pressure Abe there, too.
It was concerns about North Korea that prompted Abe to seek this week’s summit, and he and Trump will likely agree to reject any phased denuclearization by Pyongyang. But as he returns to Mar-a-Lago, that is but one of his many problems.
Japan, China finance ministers reaffirm importance of multilateral free trade
Japan: Asian rivals China and Japan on Monday pledged a “new starting point” for bilateral ties, vowing close cooperation amid a flurry of diplomacy on the North Korean missile threat and global trade tensions.
Welcoming Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi for a rare three-day visit, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe called for warmer relations between the two countries and said they should work together on North Korea.
In another headache for Abe, the finance ministrys top bureaucrat has come under fire after another weekly magazine reported that he had sexually harassed several female journalists.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. AP
Abe said he would be visiting the United States for talks with President Donald Trump to seek the “complete and irreversible denuclearisation” of North Korea and added that “we want to cooperate with China.”
Knowledge and preparation key to M&A
“We hope to develop a strategic, mutually beneficial Japan-China relationship in various fields,” said Abe.
After meeting Abe, Wang told reporters that Beijing wanted to place “China-Japan cooperation at a new starting point” and cooperate on energy, financial and environmental issues.
Tokyo is battling to stay relevant amid a string of summits on North Koreas nuclear programme in which Beijing is likely to be a major player.
With this in mind, Japan is pushing to host a trilateral meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean president Moon Jae-in.
Abe said this would be held “after Golden Week”, a series of national holidays that ends on 6 May.
Japan, China pledge to work on economic ties amid heightened trade tensions
Bilateral visits by Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping are also being planned.
China demonstrated its significant influence over its reclusive ally when Xi hosted the Norths leader Kim Jong-un and his wife in Beijing last month.