Washington is gearing up to greet Japan's new prime minister. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party came to power in December after winning a landslide election over the left-leaning Democratic Party. Abe, who previously served as prime minister in 2006-2007, has vowed to resolve the deep-rooted economic problems that have confronted his nation for decades. He has also pledged to stabilize Japan's troubled relations with some of its neighbors, including China, and enhance security ties with the United States.
What will be the topics discussed by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Abe? Will economic issues be at the top of the agenda? Or will they be trumped by security considerations?
With respect to economic issues, it is likely that Japan's membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a "high-standard" multilateral free trade agreement, will be on the agenda. Yoshihiko Noda, Abe's predecessor, had committed Japan to membership in the market-opening trade pact, but some in Washington suspect that Abe is having second thoughts. The new regional free-trade agreement is supported by big business, but it is opposed by Japan's agricultural interests. Both groups are among the staunchest supporters of the LDP. It is probable that Obama hopes that Abe will make a firm commitment to join the US-led TPP.