WASHINGTON — Japan's main opposition leader said Wednesday that the nation's prime minister is papering over differences on trade and other issues with President Donald Trump, and that could ultimately hurt the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Yukio Edano, who heads the Constitutional Democratic Party, said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is "trying to conform to Trump's ways a little too much. I think that comes with risks."
Abe was the first world leader to meet with Trump after the 2016 U.S. election, giving the American a golf driver and winning an early invitation to Trump's Florida estate.
But the U.S. soon pulled out of a trans-Pacific free trade pact that Abe supported and the Trump administration has since imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Japan, the world's third largest economy. Trade tensions could escalate if the U.S. follows through on threats to impose higher tariffs on auto imports.
"Trump's protectionist ideas are not something that Japan shares," Edano, a veteran lawmaker and former trade minister, told The Associated in an interview during a visit to Washington. He urged Tokyo to make a stronger defense of free trade to the Trump administration and warned of potential differences on North Korea policy.
"If Japan does not clearly state its opinion to the United States, in the short run the U.S.-Japan alliance may look good. However, in the long run, if we continue to ignore the differences in opinion, the problem itself may become more serious," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Japan is one of America's most steadfast and enduring friends in Asia, and Edano's low-key trip in Washington is an effort to reassure lawmakers and think tank experts that his fledgling party values the alliance.
He was a member of centrist government that ran Japan between 2009 and 2012, breaking the decades-long domination of Abe's more nationalistic Liberal Democratic Party over the nation's politics. But that government had a rocky relationship with the U.S. as it sought closer ties with China and worked to shutter a U.S. military base on Okinawa.
Edano won't be meeting U.S. officials, and there are few bells and whistles on his U.S. visit. He spoke to AP in the basement cafeteria of a congressional office building after a quick lunch of pizza and Pepsi.
While his party is the largest among the constellation of opposition groups in Japan's lower house of parliament, there's little prospect of it taking power in the near future. It is dwarfed by the LDP, which is set to elect Abe for another term as party leader next week, sustaining his six-year grip on the premiership despite a flurry of scandals in his government.
Edano said his party supports the U.S. military presence in Japan, where the U.S. has nearly 50,000 troops, but he questions the need for such a large Marine base on Okinawa. Long-delayed plans for relocating an air station there to a less populated area have stirred large-scale protests. Opponents want the base off the island altogether.