In need of a lift, Abe wins little from G20 tour

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/11 19:20:57

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The 2017 G20 summit was held in Hamburg, Germany on July 7-8. Starting from July 6, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe successively attended a trilateral summit with US and South Korean leaders as well as a series of bilateral meetings with his South Korean, Russian and Chinese counterparts. As the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party suffered an unprecedented defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election at the beginning of this month, the G20 summit therefore was taken by the Abe administration as an important platform to boost cohesion.

On the eve of the G20 summit, North Korea announced its successful test launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14, and Japan and the EU reached an agreement in principle on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Although the two events have no direct connection to the G20 summit, the former topped the agenda of Abe's talks with leaders of other G20 member states, and the latter added some sparkle to the gloomy state of Abenomics, boosting the Abe regime's confidence in economic and trade negotiations with the Trump government.

During the G20 summit, Abe repeatedly emphasized more stringent sanctions should be imposed upon North Korea when speaking to his South Korean, Russian, US and Chinese counterparts. He also made the North Korean nuclear issue a topic in his talks with leaders of Germany, Britain and India, countries that are distant from North Korea and are not parties directly concerned in the issue. With such a high profile, Abe attempted to showcase to the Japanese public his diplomatic influence and Japan's international status.

The EU-Japan EPA now is Japan's sole mega free trade agreement after Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. It's reported that Trump raised the issue of Washington's trade deficit with Tokyo during talks with Abe on Saturday and demanded Japan open its automobile market.

It's foreseeable that in the future, the Abe regime will make the EU-Japan EPA a major reference point in its bargaining with the Trump government. However, while the EU will abolish an import tariff on Japanese cars after the EPA takes effect, Japan will also have to eliminate tariffs on such items as EU-made cheese and wine. This will deal a heavy blow to Japan's agriculture sector. It's fair to say the EU-Japan EPA is a double-edged sword.

Since Abe re-took office in 2012, he hasn't paid official visits to China and South Korea. Therefore, his meetings with the top leaders of the two countries on the sidelines of the G20 summit were particularly important.

Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to resume shuttle diplomacy between the countries' leaders and to build "future-oriented" relations in their bilateral summit on July 7. This means the Japan-South Korea relationship is moving out from the deep freezer where it was under the Park administration.

At the same time, bilateral ties are still facing myriad challenges such as a "comfort woman" statue that hasn't been removed from its location in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan. The South Korean public still has a strong aversion to the Abe regime. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Abe on the sidelines of the G20 summit. With the two countries' national flags in the background, this meeting was considered different from their previous talks. China and Japan have witnessed warming relations driven by interactions between high-level officials of both sides since May. But Abe continued to utter confrontational remarks against China. For instance, he expressed concerns over China's maritime activities when meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The key to whether the China-Japan relationship can improve lies with Japan.

Abe's week-long European tour through July 12 also includes visits to countries such as Belgium and Finland after the two-day summit. It came at a time when Kyushu was hit by torrential rain. Floods and mudslides caused by heavy rain reportedly have killed at least 15 and forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes. Abe chose to finish his foreign trip in spite of the catastrophic disaster. The domestic attention to this disaster will make all his efforts to win public approval from his overseas diplomacy in vain.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology at Toyo University.


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