WASHINGTON, United States, Apr 28 – President Barack Obama hosts Japan’s prime minister at the White House Tuesday, hoping to hammer out a bumper Pacific trade deal and cement an alliance given new relevance by China’s rise.
Obama will hold Oval Office talks with Shinzo Abe and offer a welcome normally reserved for royalty or heads of state, including a full arrival ceremony on the South Lawn and a luxurious state dinner.
On Monday Obama took Abe on an unannounced tour of the Lincoln Memorial, riding together in Obama’s armoured limousine “the beast” to underscore their personal ties.
The White House is keen to capitalize on Abe’s desire to put Japan back at the centre of power in Asia, as China flexes its political and economic muscle.
In the Oval Office Obama and Abe will discuss trade and are expected to hail progress toward a Trans-Pacific Partnership that brings together 12 countries – including Japan and the United States.
The deal would cover 40 percent of the world economy.
“If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” Obama told the Wall Street Journal ahead of the meeting.
China has increasingly been making its economic clout felt, pushing hard for the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to rival US-backed institutions.
Both Tokyo and the White House had hoped that Obama would have authority from Congress to clinch a deal before Abe’s visit, allowing a more definitive announcement.
But political wrangling on Capitol Hill means that may not come before May.
Japan sees the authority as a prerequisite to conclude talks.
Even if progress is made, Obama has faced critics within his own party who believe the deal would allow American jobs to be shipped overseas.
Obama said the idea that he was “trying to just destroy the middle class or destroy our democracy is a little unrealistic. And they know it.”
Trade negotiators are still working on tough issues linked to automobiles and agriculture. But with Obama looking for a bipartisan trade victory and Abe keen to bolster his domestic economic reforms, an eventual deal seems likely.