Mr. Abe might yet surprise on the domestic front; he deliberately mentioned that Japan’s tax rates are higher than the OECD average–a signal corporate-tax burdens could ease. His team could aim for something small; perhaps by resolving a long-running dispute over U.S. beef imports, or by cracking open immigration.
But in the long run, that’s not the kind of sweeping reform Japan so desperately cries out for. Mr. Abe needs to make Japan an easier place to do business for foreigners, break down regulatory barriers to trade and keep plugging away at the anti-reform base in the LDP. Period.
Once again, the Koizumi formula is the way to go: political reform must precede or accompany structural reform of the economy.
As for this weekend’s agenda, the transcript of a press conference with Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Asian Affairs, is available here.
Several things stand out.
First, there will be no escaping the comfort women issue. Even if President Bush leaves it out of discussions, as I expect he will, press coverage of Abe’s visit will necessarily mention the resolution before Congress and Abe’s ambiguous response, from which he has backtracked.
Second, there will be no way for Abe to avoid comparisons with Koizumi, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is something that Abe’s advisers are working assiduously to avoid within Japan. In part due to the heavily covered visit to Graceland last summer, Koizumi raised expectations of Japanese prime ministers in the US as well — Koizumi indubitably became more recognized among Americans than all of his predecessors combined.
If you read the transcript above, there is much talk about the Bush-Koizumi relationship. Wilder even made clear that since leaving office Koizumi remains “a close friend.” This means that throughout the weekend, this man
Of course the US-Japan relationship is bigger than the relationship between the president and the prime minister, but close cooperation at the top facilitates greater cooperation at the ministerial and sub-ministerial levels, ensuring that the work of individuals focused exclusively on the bilateral relationship enjoys the blessings of the leaders who make the ultimate decisions.
So that’s the big question for the weekend. Will Bush and Abe be able to forge a cordial relationship, that while not having the same bonhomie of the Bush-Koizumi relationship, will be able to serve as the basis for efforts to strengthen the US-Japan relationship during the waning years of the Bush administration and remove some of the doubts that have set in over the past six months?