News Analysis: Trump's Japan trip more ceremonial than substantive, say experts

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-25 10:14:34|Editor: ZX
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WASHINGTON, May 24 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump left Washington on Friday for his four-day Japan visit as the first state guest since the enthronement of Japan's new emperor, a trip seen by experts as more ceremonial than substantive.

During his visit, Trump will meet with the new Japanese emperor and empress, hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and attend a sumo match, a senior Trump administration official told reporters earlier this week.

The president will also tour the Yokosuka U.S. Naval Base, the official added in a tele-conference briefing on the condition of anonymity.

Trump's visit comes as the two countries are at odds on trade, with Washington having slapped metal tariffs on Japan and threatened duties on its autos.

Noting that Trump's visit will cover "a broad range of topics" in bilateral ties, the official acknowledged that it will not be trade-centered.

"I don't think that the purpose of this trip is to focus on trade," the official said, adding that the "heart of the visit" is to be the state guests of the new emperor.

"It's almost completely symbolic in nature, affirming the alliance, showing respect to the new emperor, and lending support to Abe before upcoming elections," Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Xinhua.

For Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, the trip is an effort to strengthen bilateral ties. "This visit reflects the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship," Mahaffee told Xinhua.

Meanwhile, trade is still among the topics for Trump's talks with Abe as Trump himself tweeted on Friday that he will discuss trade and the military with the Japanese prime minister.

Experts expected little substantive gain from their talks. "Trump remains stubborn about working out a bilateral trade deal between the United States and Japan, and has made it clear he is willing to use tariffs on Japanese autos to get what he wants," Jenna Gibson, an Asia expert at the University of Chicago, told Xinhua.

"Abe obviously wants to avoid that, but he also faces domestic pressure to protect politically important industries, particularly agriculture," the scholar added.

Gibson pointed out that by meeting in person they can probably start to work out a deal that will be acceptable for both sides.

For Paal, Trump and Abe will touch upon a future free trade agreement and its key terms, with Japan emphasizing its contribution to jobs and production in the United States.

Experts also said that regional security, especially the ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula, would be another main topic for their meetings.

"The Japanese government will likely want to correct the notion that Washington only cares about North Korea's (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and not its shorter-range missiles that can reach Japan and other U.S. allies," wrote Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japanese studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a recently published article.

"This summit will be policy-lite, designed to highlight the strengths of the U.S.-Japan partnership rather than the wrinkles," Smith said.

"Those wrinkles are there, however," she added.