TOKYO -- As concerns grow over President Donald Trump's aggressive "America first" foreign policy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to call for continued U.S. engagement in Asia while rebuting claims of unfair Japanese practices in the automobile industry.
Abe explained his strategy to lawmakers ahead of a meeting with Trump on Feb. 10. Apprehension over Tokyo's relationship with Washington is growing, as Trump has accused Japan and other allies of freeloading off the U.S.
"There are concerns that we will face serious trouble if the Japan-U.S. alliance wavers," Abe said at an upper house budget meeting Tuesday. "We must demonstrate that things are well."
"The Asia-Pacific region needs a U.S. presence," Abe said, adding that he wants to remind Trump that "the role the U.S. has played in the past needs to be maintained." The prime minister said he intends to reaffirm both countries' commitment to Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, under which the U.S. must defend Japan if the nation comes under military attack.
Trump in his campaign had urged Japan to pay more for the U.S. military presence in the country. When asked about this at a Diet session Friday, Abe simply said that "Japan and the U.S. should decide on an appropriate division of the costs."
Uncertainties over U.S. trade policy have deepened. Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade pact as soon as he took office. The new president also slammed Toyota Motor for plans to build a new plant in Mexico.
"There is no change in our stance of continuing to push the U.S. toward the TPP," Abe said, but he also admitted "it will be difficult to quickly persuade the U.S. to ratify the deal." Negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement to replace the TPP "is not completely out of the question," he said.
Opposition lawmakers argued that the U.S. could make more aggressive demands one-on-one. "An agreement that is one-sided against Japan will not work," Abe said in response to such concerns.
In terms of the auto trade, where Trump claims Japan engages in unfair practices, "I will firmly explain that both countries are benefiting," Abe said Tuesday.
Trump's entry ban on refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries set off confusion and worries around the world. When questioned about the measure Monday by Renho, president of the opposition Democratic Party, Abe said only that he was "not in a position to comment."
"The world will be disappointed to hear that the Japanese prime minister is not in a position to comment," the Democratic Party's Tetsuro Fukuyama said Tuesday, pressuring Abe to comment. Fukuyama cited other world leaders who have spoken out against the ban.
"A country's immigration policy is a domestic matter," Abe replied. "We are keeping a close eye on it, but I will refrain from immediately commenting on the policy."