A lot has changed since February 2017.
As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads to Mar-a-Lago to meet President Trump, both leaders are looking weathered from the storms of the intervening year. While their first meeting at the Florida resort was hailed as a “high point” in relations between the two leaders, this summit promises to be more challenging as the two men struggle with heavy political baggage on both sides.
As the summit kicks off on Tuesday afternoon, here’s what we know they’ll be bringing to the table:
Scandal at home
Trump and Abe are both facing corruption allegations in their home countries. Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is intensifying and even transcending the office of the special counsel. Meanwhile, James Comey’s tell-all book about his dealings with Trump is out this week. It’s the second exposé to be released on this White House since the beginning of the year.
For his part, Abe is facing cronyism scandals in Japan related to the discounted sale of government land to a private school and the approval of a new veterinary school run by one of the Prime Minister’s friends. His approval numbers are so far underwater that some analysts believe he may have to resign in the coming months.
Both leaders are coming into this summit in dire need of a political boost.
Little rocket man
One of the key priorities of the summit is for the U.S. and Japan to get on the same page about North Korea. Abe had reason to think they were there after Trump said the U.S. was “100%” behind Japan after North Korea launched a test rocket the last time the two men met at Mar-a-Lago. That confidence was thrown into question when Trump later agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un. While the U.S. is primarily concerned with denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula, Abe will seek assurances that Trump will also address the country’s short- and medium-range missiles, which threaten Japan.
Abe is also likely to bring up the issue of the 17 Japanese people believed to have been abducted by North Korea. Securing their release is one of the Prime Minister’s top policy priorities, and he may suggest to Trump that if Kim is willing to do so it would be a sign that he is willing to negotiate in good faith.
Tariffs and trade
Abe is keen to stay on the right side of Trump’s trade war with China. That is, on the side of U.S. exemptions from recently levied tariffs. Japan was conspicuously absent from a list of U.S. allies that would be exempt from new American tariffs, possibly because of Trump’s displeasure with the bilateral trade deficit the U.S. has with Japan. Abe will seek to secure that exemption, and urge Trump to ensure the stability of the global economy through clear policies and more multilateral agreements.
None currently scheduled.