Japanese Prime Minister Abe, embroiled in scandals, faces calls to stand down

Japan PM's woes deepen as ratings drop

On Tuesday, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the United States as part of an intense diplomatic bid to make sure the USA doesn't agree to anything with the North Koreans that would threaten the security of the world's third biggest economy. He also is expected to ask Trump to raise with Kim the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

This double blow came as a surprise to Abe: Since Trump became president, more than any other foreign politician, the Japanese PM had sought closer friendship with the USA leader. The chances of success may be slim, but Mr. Trump can solve several problems by following his ally's lead. Washington and Tokyo have yet to find a way forward on their trade relationship, as President Trump and his advisors continue to focus in on the bilateral trade deficit. Therefore, positive statements in the economic realm between China and Japan shortly before Abe meets Trump - and asking China to express Japan's concern over the abduction issue to North Korea - certainly entails the feeling of an "unmentioned swipe" aimed at the Trump administration by Japan.

The two Asian neighbours are targets of United States steel and aluminium tariffs, while Beijing is also facing stiff tariffs on US$150 billion (S$196.6b) worth of goods and services.

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that "China wants to stick to the "right path" of bilateral ties with India, explore new areas for cooperation and ensure sound and steady development of the relationship", according to First Post of India.

Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, at Haneda global airport in Tokyo on Tuesday, preparing to board a plane bound for the U.S. Abe hopes to keep Japan's interests on the table in a possible U.S. Agreements were reached on holding summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (April 27) and US President Trump (late May-early June).

Under pressure from Republican lawmakers and governors from farm states last week, Trump asked his top economic advisers to take another look at the TPP, which Japan and other countries revived after the USA exit.

Fukuda denied the allegations, while Finance Minister Taro Aso faces criticism for neither firing his deputy nor investigating the matter.

In response, the White House made clear Trump is concerned about the security of US allies in addition to the American people.

The sensitive task of how to manage Trump's desire to renegotiate the terms of U.S. -Japan economic ties remains incomplete, however. The Abe cabinet's approval rating percentages have dipped precariously into the thirties after new discoveries about the government's handling of two suspicious cases of favorable treatment involving the prime minister and his wife.

"I think Abe has discovered the limits of personal diplomacy with an erratic character like Trump who prioritises America first, not the alliance", Professor Kingston said.

There are other levers Washington could also seek to use. Abe will have to overcome policy divisions on trade and potentially North Korea that have emerged in Trump's second year in office.

The second could be harder to attain: a statement from Trump that there will be no relaxation of pressure on North Korea, or any change in the US -led military readiness or exercises, until Pyongyang takes verifiable steps to denuclearize.

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