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Trade war

Trump's auto tariff push blasted by Japan's Abe

Prime minister fends off opposition challenges on school scandals

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the U.S. proposal to levy a 25% duty on imported vehicles "difficult to understand." (Photo by Masayuki Terasawa)

TOKYO -- The U.S. government's proposal to levy a 25% tariff on imported vehicles in the name of national security is "obviously unacceptable," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday in the Diet.

"It's extremely difficult to understand" why Washington would slap such duties on an ally, Abe said during the first debate among party leaders since December 2016.

Yuichiro Tamaki, co-leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, blasted as "unfair" Washington's decision to consider restricting auto imports, on top of the steel and aluminum tariffs already imposed by President Donald Trump's administration. Abe agreed and stressed that all trade actions must comply with World Trade Organization rules.

The prime minister said he has explained to Trump that Japanese automakers support American jobs. "We'll take action if we need to take action," he said.

Abe also denied any involvement in two school-related scandals that have dogged him in recent months.

Constitutional Democratic Party chief Yukio Edano challenged him on a comment this week regarding a questionable sale of public land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen. Abe had said early last year that he would step down as prime minister and from parliament if he or his wife were found to be involved in the scandal. But in a budget committee meeting Monday, he said he did not need to resign because no bribes were taken.

Abe asserted Wednesday that his initial remarks had already tied bribery to his definition of involvement. "I haven't suddenly used a new definition," he said, calling this a "distraction from the real issue."

"The important thing is to investigate why the land was discounted," he said.

Abe also addressed allegations that he influenced government approval of a veterinary school operated by Kake Educational Institution. Recently discovered records from Ehime Prefecture indicate that Abe met in February 2015 with the school's chairman, Kotaro Kake, casting doubt on the prime minister's claims that he was not involved in the process.

The prime minister stated that he did not meet with Kake on that date, adding that the chairman has said the same.

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