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Japan's Shinzo Abe To Meet With Trump In White House


President Trump got in a Twitter war with Mexico's president over who's going to pay for a wall. Trump infuriated the leader of Australia over a plan for the U.S. to take in refugees. Now comes the leader of Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Washington today. Abe and Trump appear ready to play nice. In fact, they plan to play golf together in Florida. This is a critical relationship with a whole lot at stake. And let's talk it through with Caroline Kennedy, who was U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Obama. She stepped down recently.

Ambassador, welcome back to the program. Thanks for joining us.


GREENE: So what is Prime Minister Abe trying to get out of this trip?

KENNEDY: Well, I think he's really trying to solidify his relationship, Japan's relationship with the new administration to explain to President Trump firsthand how important the alliance is in Asia and to, again, you know, reach out to the American people by meeting also with congressional leadership and the business community.

GREENE: You say how important this relationship is - I mean, Japan is seen as America's closest ally in Asia. An important part of that is balancing China's influence. Now, President Trump took this call from China's leader the day before Abe's visit. Is that a slap in the face to Japan's leader?

KENNEDY: I don't think so. I think that Chinese - he's been talking to foreign leaders, you know, since he assumed the presidency. And obviously, China is a hugely important country. These things are difficult to schedule, I can tell you. But certainly, I...

GREENE: You've done some of this. You have had to schedule some of these yourself in the past, I take...

KENNEDY: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, perhaps the Chinese became eager to speak to the president knowing that he was about to meet with Japan. So there's a lot that goes into that. But certainly, I think for him to be speaking with both of them is in the United States' interest.

GREENE: I suppose it would have been even bigger news maybe if President Trump had refused to talk to the leader of China (laughter)...

KENNEDY: Yeah (laughter).

GREENE: ...If he was calling before.

Well, let's dig into some of these issues here. I mean, President Trump killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this big trade deal that Prime Minister Abe worked on during the Obama administration. I mean, is that, in some ways, an insult or a big problem that Abe needs to deal with on this trip?

KENNEDY: Well, it's a big problem because - going back to China, I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership was important on many levels. One of them was to create - to really send a signal that the U.S. was going to remain engaged in the region, was going to be a leader and was working to set up a kind of a fair and free markets there for the developing countries to counter the influence of China.

And I think all the countries in the region are looking to the U.S. to stay engaged. They're looking to the U.S. for leadership. They want us there. We do a tremendous amount of trade with countries in Asia. And so I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a chance to really strengthen our hand at the expense of - perhaps of China who was trying to set up competing trade relationships.

So I think Prime Minister Abe also was going to use the Trans-Pacific Partnership to stimulate his own economy. And so I think the U.S. and Japan together is really a formidable force. And I think to get the 10 other countries involved would give us a lot more than just doing a series of bilateral deals. But that...

GREENE: So this is Abe coming and saying, I mean, we need some sort of trade agreement. I mean, I was - he's going to say that partnership was going to be good for the economy. We need to work something else out here.

KENNEDY: Yeah. But I think he would much prefer to have a multilateral deal. And Japan is really the big prize in that because it is a more closed market. So everyone was looking forward to getting into Japan. There's talk that the 11 countries will go ahead without the United States, which is a serious blow to us, I think. But we'll see what happens. President Trump seems to like to pursue bilateral deals, and so I think they'll probably talk about that. It won't get us anywhere near as far as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would. So - but maybe it's something they can discuss.

GREENE: And just in the few seconds we have left, is there a risk for Abe at home if he seems cozy with Donald Trump?

KENNEDY: Well, I think his interest goes beyond that. He's a hugely strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan alliance. I don't think President Trump is particularly popular in Japan. But Abe is also meeting with congressional leadership, with the business community because I think one thing I certainly saw every single day was just how deep, complex and broad and important the U.S.-Japan relationship is and how it is in, you know, America's national interest in a way that I think doesn't get us a lot of attention here.


KENNEDY: It is now, which is great. But it's...

GREENE: All right. We'll have to stop there. We're out of time, sadly. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

KENNEDY: OK. Great. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.