Why Shinzo Abe Is Banking on a Bromance with Trump
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As U.S. president Donald Trump embarks on his foreign policy in earnest, one element will likely define his emerging approach to diplomacy: bromance. Indeed, he inherited his oft-fawning adoration of the Russian president Vladimir Putin well into his presidency, causing much consternation among many on Capitol Hill leery of propitiating Moscow. While the current geopolitical climate may justify the controversy surrounding Trump’s indefatigable exaltation of Putin, personal bond was largely missing from former president Barack Obama’s strategic calculus, often leading to diplomatic rigidity as demonstrated by the ongoing imbroglio in Syria. As Trump is scheduled to host a summit with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on February 10, followed by a golf retreat in Florida, the new president has a historic opportunity to forge personal rapport with the leader of a key U.S. ally. Moreover, a bromance with Abe would lay a strong foundation for U.S. Asia policy in the Trump era.
In fact, Abe himself is keen on establishing a personal bond with Trump. Since taking office in December 2012, the Japanese prime minister has found his own niche by bonding with the world’s strongman leaders, ranging from fellow democratic leaders like Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, to Eurasian autocrats, such as Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A bromance with Trump would naturally fit Abe’s foreign-policy proclivities. Indeed, Abe became the first foreign leader to schedule a summit with the then-president elect at Trump Tower immediately after the November 2016 presidential election, demonstrating his enthusiasm for establishing a rapport with America’s newly minted leader.
Abe’s eagerness for the Trump presidency derives from his years of frustration with Obama. Although their reciprocal visits to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor last year unmistakably showed the world the strength of the bilateral alliance, Obama and Abe never struck personal chemistry with each other. This was largely due to their perception gap surrounding Asia’s geopolitical environment. Obama largely resigned himself to “strategic patience” by restricting Washington's overseas defense commitment. The Japanese leader grew skeptical of his U.S. counterpart, because he viewed China’s regional challenges as a major threat to Japan’s national security. Indeed, Abe once even complained to his colleagues by accusing Obama of “not being strategic” in reference to the president’s regional commitment. Nonetheless, he remained patient and accommodating toward the president.