Suga and Trump re-affirm U.S.-Japan alliance in recent phone call . . .
Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Donald Trump had a phone call Sunday in which they agreed to strengthen their security alliance. They also committed to working together on the global pandemic response, including developing and distributing a vaccine. Suga also requested American assistance in the return of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, one of the unfulfilled wishes of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe. In Abe’s administration, Suga played a leading role in domestic affairs as the chief cabinet secretary but is relatively inexperienced in foreign policy.
U.S.-Japan-China triangle Suga’s main challenge . . .
As Suga faces the challenging task of balancing security and economic interests amid growing geopolitical tensions, his government is likely to continue to promote the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) concept, a cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy that widens the aperture on the Asia Pacific to include the Indian Ocean area. And while Suga will continue to focus on the U.S.-Japan-China trilateral relationship, the importance of South Korea cannot be underestimated. Abe left behind a strained relationship marred by trade and territorial disputes, in addition to unresolved historical grievances that caused deep resentment between the two nations. A complete reset is unlikely, but Abe’s departure offers a chance to smoothen the relationship – a necessary step in the context of a more belligerent North Korea.
A lot to gain and a lot to lose in a post-COVID world . . .
For all the criticism he has received, Abe’s efforts at ensuring that Japan plays an active international role are noteworthy. From golfing with Trump to dressing up as Super Mario for the Rio Olympics and pushing for Japan to host the Games, Abe demonstrated initiative and diplomatic energy. Suga will need to show that he can rise to his new role. He is expected to call for international co-operation on the pandemic at the upcoming annual UN gathering. Japan can also take a lead on trade and economic co-operation, notably by strengthening and inviting new economies to join the CPTPP, of which Canada is a member. Such initiatives will allow Japan to position itself as a defender of a multilateral system that is under threat and in urgent need of revival.
- East Asia Forum: Japan’s Indo-Pacific vision will endure
- Globe and Mail: After Abe: Can an old hand steer Japan through stormy seas?
- Japan Times: Suga and Trump vow to boost Japan-U.S. security alliance in first phone call