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Wednesday, November 16, 2016, 13:16

Trump aims to ease Asian allies' qualms when he meets Japan's Abe

By Reuters
Trump aims to ease Asian allies' qualms when he meets Japan's Abe
President-elect Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech during his election night rally, Nov 9, 2016, in New York. (John Locher / AP)

TOKYO/WASHINGTON – Donald Trump is expected to use his first meeting with a foreign leader as US president-elect this week to try to reassure Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other Asian allies rattled by his campaign rhetoric, advisers to Trump said.

Prime Minister Abe and Mr. Trump will have good chemistry

Takashi Kawakami, Professor, Takushoku University, Tokyo

Abe and Trump have differences on policy issues such as free trade. But they may find they have more in common when they meet in New York on Thursday.

"Prime Minister Abe and Mr. Trump will have good chemistry," said Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Tokyo's Takushoku University. "Both tend to decide and act based on intuition. And both are pragmatists who put their countries' interests first."

An adviser to Trump said the president-elect would reaffirm his commitment to the US-Japan alliance and the region, despite campaign rhetoric that raised questions about the future of what has been the bedrock of Japanese defense since World War Two.

Abe wants to build a relationship of trust while taking the measure of the real-estate magnate.

"The first and by far, top priority is to establish a personal relationship rather than debate specific policy areas," said a person familiar with Japan's preparations for the meeting.

Trump aims to ease Asian allies' qualms when he meets Japan's Abe
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) smiles with other lawmakers after the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal was passed in the lower house of the parliament in Tokyo on Nov 10, 2016. (JIJI Press / AFP)

Trump's campaign comments on the possibility of Japan acquiring nuclear arms and demands allies pay more for the upkeep of US forces on their soil have fanned worries.

His election has also dashed hopes for US approval of a 12-nation trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a linchpin of Washington's "pivot" to Asia and a pillar of Abe's economic reforms.

READ MORE: Xi, Trump discuss China-US cooperation

A Trump adviser said he expected the meeting to "set the tone" for Trump's relations with Japan and the region. Some diplomats say, however, that until Trump makes key appointments, it will be hard to assess his policies on issues including nuclear threat by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

SOOTHING WORDS?

"I think the message ... is going to be extremely reassuring," the advisor said. "I expect he is going to reaffirm his commitments to the alliance and the American commitment to being in the Pacific long-term."

The adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Japan's financial support for US troops in Japan might come up, but was unlikely to be a focus.

Japan agreed last December to boost spending for US forces in Japan by 1.4 percent for the next five years, at an average of 189.3 billion yen (US$1.74 billion) per year. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has said Tokyo was paying enough.

The Trump adviser stressed a more positive view.

Trump and Abe could also have a meeting of minds over Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the economic front, Abe might also be able to offer Japanese technology and financing for US infrastructure projects Trump has said he wants to promote.

Finessing differences on free trade will likely be tougher given Trump's opposition to the TPP.

*$1 = 108.9000 yen

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