This is not altogether surprising; despite Ambassador Schieffer’s voicing concerns about Abe’s response to the congressional comfort women resolution (mentioned in this post), I would be shocked if the issue was taken up by more senior administration officials, especially given the state of relations between the administration and the Democratic Congress. If anything, I would not be surprised if the US sends a new ambassador to Japan in the aftermath of Abe’s visit.
The agenda, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki, will focus largely on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Without knowing more details about the agenda, I assume that the summit will be more or less boilerplate about the importance of the US-Japan alliance to the region, much like Vice President Cheney’s visit to Japan in February, rather than frank and forthright discussion of the sources of the friction that has emerged between the allies since Prime Minister Abe took office.
As regular readers of this blog know, I am concerned about the clear signs of drift in the US-Japan alliance that have presented since former Prime Minister Koizumi visited Washington (and Graceland) last summer. The only cure for drift is sustained engagement by the senior leaderships of both countries, from the sub-cabinet level up to the chief executives and back down. I fear, however, that the Bush administration, under siege at home and abroad and lacking Japan experts in its midst, is inadequately prepared to dedicate itself to pursuing more open, constructive political cooperation with Japan — and the Abe Cabinet, between its plummeting popularity and a general laxness in its approach to the US-Japan alliance, seems hardly capable of picking up the slack.
Accordingly, in the face of the challenges of a fluid regional security environment, the region’s most significant security partnership — anchor of the US position in East Asia since the end of World War II — appears powerless.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope there’s strength yet. But if President Bush and Prime Minister Abe — and, more importantly, the US and Japanese foreign and defense ministers, in the 2 + 2 meeting following the summit — do not have frank and open discussions about the evolving regional security environment, about approaches to the emergence of China, and about differences between the US and Japanese positions in the six-party talks (if they make it to the end of the month), my fears may well be justified.