Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just arrived in Boston for the first leg of a historic trip that will bring him to Washington DC for a state visit and, on Wednesday, the first-ever address by a Japanese prime minister to a joint session of Congress. From there he will move to California to wrap up his week in the United States.
During his trip, media attention is likely to focus on three pressing issues in US-Japan relations:
These issues arise as four fundamental shifts are playing out in US-Japan relations, changes that provide the context for Prime Minister Abe’s visit:
US-Japan people-to-people ties seem stronger than ever before. Recent polls show that roughly 70% of Americans and Japanese think favorably of one another—a vast improvement from two decades earlier. This was evidenced by the American response to Japan’s 2011 tsunami—a JCIE report finds that Americans donated nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars to help with the disaster, a stunning amount.
Japan has struggled over the past 25 years to find strong political leadership and its prime minister has changed more in this period than the leader of any other OECD country. Prime Minister Abe seems to have broken this pattern. He has managed to stay in office for almost two and a half years and is on track to become one of the longest-serving premiers in the postwar era. However, the institutional factors that make it hard for Japanese prime ministers to lead still hold sway, and so his strong leadership may be more of an aberration than the start of a new pattern.
Asia’s regional order is undergoing a fundamental shift as China rises; Korea, Indonesia, and others nations continue to grow; and Japan’s relative power declines. While the United States continues its rebalance to Asia, Japan finds it increasingly important to strengthen the American commitment to the US-Japan alliance, a reversal from earlier eras when it was Japan that was wary of being dragged into commitments by the United States.
Japan and the United States are looking for ways to work together in an increasingly globalizing world, tackling issues that countries can no longer deal with adequately on their own. In 2014, they launched the US-Japan Development Dialogue, and there are many other areas ripe for deeper US-Japan cooperation in a multilateral context—global health and communicable disease (e.g., Ebola), humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, environmental issues, and so on.
For more information, please contact JCIE/USA at (212)-679-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.