Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who heads Tuesday to Mar-a-Lago for a meeting with US President Donald Trump, is in dire need of a policy win as he faces challenges overseas and protests at home.
The visit gives the leaders an opportunity to discuss Trump's upcoming summit with North Korea, which Japan eyes warily.
Trump welcomed the two days of meetings at his private Mar-a-Lago club. As much as Abe would like to get an exemption on metal tariffs, the political cost of caving in to Trump's pressure for a trade deal may be far greater for the prime minister.
Tokyo fears the US leader will try to link vital security matters with touchy trade topics.
"We expect it to be very positive", White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday of Abe's visit. Firstly, the United States president seems to have suddenly made a U-turn and given up his hardline stance, which Abe always backed, against North Korea.
The official visit will begin Tuesday afternoon with a one-on-one meeting followed by a small group discussion with top national security officials focused on the Kim summit. Abe has never issued a critical statement about Trump. Not only was Abe the first foreign leader to meet Trump after his November 2016 victory, he was the first to meet Trump at Mar-a-Lago after becoming President. Because Abe has no scheduled summit with Kim Jong Un, there is a risk Japan may be left behind. His meeting with Donald Trump in Florida will continue the so-called "golf diplomacy", launched by Shinzo Abe to strengthen personal ties with the American president.
Out of consideration for voters in farming states, President Trump reaffirmed last week that the U.S. could return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - the ambitious free trade agreement of the Pacific Rim countries negotiated by President Barack Obama's administration - if there was a "substantial improvement" for the US.
"Not allowing North Korea to threaten the USA just means that we remain committed to achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula", a White House official said.
Although most analysts say the U.S. -Japan alliance established after World War II remains fundamentally sound, Trump's unilateral, spontaneous and unpredictable pronouncements and approaches to policymaking have raised deep-seated concerns about the future of East Asia.
Japan's leader said that he is seeking China's cooperation in efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons development in a full and irreversible way.
Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday he looked forward to the meeting with Abe: "Working on Trade and Military Security".
Abe instead wants to promise more Japanese direct investment in the U.S. and propose a new format for trade talks.
Abe also will likely seek a reversal of the decision not to exclude Japan from new steel and aluminum tariffs, while resisting Trump's attempts to pull Japan into bilateral trade negotiations.
"We are also faced with some complex and sensitive elements", said Wang, a veteran Japan expert who is a former ambassador to Tokyo.
Abe was cautious on the issue ahead of the talks, saying only that he would "exchange opinions based on our shared understanding that Japan and the United States will lead the economic growth of the Indo-Pacific region through free and fair trade". Trump opened the possibility of rejoining last week amid a trade dispute with China. Abe also wants Trump to bring up Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang long ago. USA officials stressed that Trump has met with Abe more than any other world leader, and say they've been in "constant contact" since Trump accepted Kim's invitation.
So one of the main goals of Abe's visit to the USA is to dispel the abovementioned fears, to demonstrate the unity of views on the North Korean issue, and to give impetus to mutual efforts to coordinate actions regarding the North Korean nuclear issue. He also is expected to ask Trump to raise with Kim the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. The turn in North Korea's policy, expressed by Kim's conciliatory remarks, is regarded in Tokyo as a result of the maximum pressure strategy against the DPRK, which Japan always supported.
Shimada said Abe would make the case to Trump that releasing the abductees could help North Korea prove they can be trusted to negotiate in good faith after years of deception.
In response, the White House made clear Trump is concerned about the security of USA allies in addition to the American people. Abe has denied that he or his wife intervened in the sale.
That has sparked mass protests demanding Abe's resignation and imperils his chances of winning another term as ruling party leader in September and staying on as premier, despite a handy national election victory a year ago.