Shinzo Abe: Betting on TPP to deal with China’s rise

International Business News  –  Hiroyuki Nishimura: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe surprised New Yorkers. On November 17, 2016, just 9 days after the US presidential election, the then Japanese Prime Minister visited Donald Trump’s private residence “Trump Tower” on Fifth Avenue in New York.

In New York City, where liberals prevail, there are still many people holding placards against Trump on roads and subways. The author who interviewed the presidential election in the local area has also been asked many times “who is Abe (Abe)”. Abe, known to the economic world as the protagonist of “Abenomics”, became a sensation.

Breaking diplomatic taboos to visit the United States and Italy in TPP?

It is taboo in diplomatic etiquette to skip the current president and directly visit the next president. And Trump, along with his allies, was ruthlessly criticized in the election, and heads of state were tired of deciding how much distance to keep from Trump. Abe sees this as an opportunity.

He communicated directly by phone with those around Abe, according to local behind-the-scenes sources who helped bring about the talks at the time. Abe has shortened the distance with Trump by breaking the rules of the ordinary diplomatic process. Perhaps Abe concluded that Japan, with its declining economy, would lose its sense of presence if it played well.

Abe was seen to have called out the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the talks. Workers impoverished by the relocation of manufacturing overseas have no interest in globalization, and Trump has called for an exit from the accord introduced by the Obama administration. Abe plotted to get Trump to change his mind. After Trump, who took office, announced that the United States would formally withdraw from the TPP, Abe mobilized the remaining member states to reach the TPP11 (CPTPP) agreement, insisting that the United States return to the agreement.

The background is that, in addition to expanding trade, Abe expects the TPP to act as a breakwater to reduce China’s influence. If China, which is gaining momentum, expands its influence in neighboring countries as a whole, it will increase its dependence on trade and capital. Capitalist rules aimed at democracy, freedom, and open markets will also be pushed aside, which is not conducive to local Japanese companies.

Abe seems to think that China, which has entered the economic field of various countries, will sooner or later increase its influence in politics and military. In order to prevent this from happening, the United States should be drawn into the ranks of establishing the economic order, using its huge market as “bait” to attract more partners. This idea of merging the economy with national security is the same as the foreign policy of the Abe administration.

A framework in which the U.S. can achieve results without returning to the TPP

The idea of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” has become a banner in the face of no hope of the United States returning to the TPP. This concept originated from the idea of the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” when Abe first served as Prime Minister of Japan. It was originally proposed by Abe in 2016, but began to be incorporated into the Trump administration’s Asia policy in the fall of 2017 form.

In November 2017, Abe and Trump, who held talks in Tokyo, confirmed their approach to advancing a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Trump then delivered a speech in Vietnam, making it clear that the United States would engage in Asian affairs based on a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Abe ceded the honor to Trump, choosing “real” between name and reality.

Although the “free and open Indo-Pacific” has attracted much attention in terms of national security, Abe’s emphasis is to improve the regional economic level. The U.S. government has also identified it as a strategy consisting of three pillars: economy, national security, and rulemaking.

Abe cleverly deals with Trump’s unconventional cards

In this sense, it is also natural for the Japan-US-Australia-India four-nation framework “Quad” linked with the “free and open Indo-Pacific” to strengthen economic measures. Quad also started from the four-nation dialogue mechanism proposed by Abe in 2006. Following the field of national security, Quad proposed cooperation between the four countries in strengthening supply chain, export management, advanced technology and infrastructure support.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) introduced in May under the leadership of the Biden administration in the United States is also basically an attempt to expand these frameworks to regions such as Southeast Asia beyond the four countries. The seeds Abe sowed, after nearly 9 years of prime minister tenure, began to form a new order.

Without Abe, or without the special relationship between Abe and Trump, whether all this can be achieved can only be verified by historians.

It may be wrong to overemphasize Abe and Trump’s “getting tantrums”. International political scientist Ian Bremmer said: “Abe managed it well”, arguing that as a realist, facing a U.S. president who may make unconventional moves, Abe should very sleek.

Anti-globalization and economic security concerns have created headwinds for free trade around the world. But for Japan, which relies on free trade, maintaining free trade is a matter of national security. A person close to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Kishida “has a strong sense of confrontation” with Abe’s diplomatic performance. Including the response to the CPTPP that China applied for, what kind of seeds will Kishida sow?