Japan, US symposium signals renewed economic strength

By Joe Snell | DFW Newsflash | March 2017

Dr. Haruo Iguchi’s first trip to Dallas in many ways resembled Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s February visit to the White House.

Greeted warmly by American hosts and introduced as an honored guest, the professor of International Studies at Kwansei Gakuin University joined Joseph M. Young, director for Japanese affairs and the East Asian/Pacific Affairs Bureau for the US Department of State, as keynote speakers of the Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth’s panel on US and Japan relations. Speaking to a room full of American and Japanese political officials, corporate leaders, and local enthusiasts at the InterContinental Dallas on Feb. 17, both speakers were encouraged by Prime Minister Abe and President Trump’s meeting in early February as a sign of continued relations in an alliance that dates back over seven decades.

“This is the first time in probably post-war history that in the immediate aftermath of the inauguration of the President of the United States, Japan has been front and center of American foreign relations,” Dr. Iguchi said. “This is kind of extraordinary in that respect.”

The panel, sponsored by American Airlines and put on in collaboration with the Tower Center’s political studies at SMU and the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, is part of a series presented by the National Association of Japan-America Societies across the US, on contemporary issues, to local audiences.

Dr. Takeuchi, an associate professor of political science at SMU and director of the Sun and Star program on Japan and East Asia in the Tower Center, welcomed the speakers and talked about the importance of continued bi-lateral discussions.

“This kind of symposium discussion is particularly important in the time of uncertainty and unpredictability in international relations,” Dr. Takeuchi said. His remarks followed those by Addison Mayor Todd Meier, who spoke on economic relations specifically affecting North Texas.

“Japan is a very important economic partner for this region,” Mayor Meier said, “generating over $4 billion for just the DFW region.”

Japan will have its first formal economic talks with the Trump administration in April, where U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Japan’s finance minister and deputy prime minister Taro Aso will lead bi-lateral economic discussions on trade and direct foreign investment.

According to Dr. Iguchi, Japan may also plead its case on the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump’s famous decision not to pursue ratification of the 12-nation trade deal had major implications for Japan, a key player in the partnership.

“The million dollar question is to what extent the details of a new free trade arrangement can be made through negotiations in the post TPP period,” Dr. Iguchi said. “Hopefully Prime Minister Abe would like to bring President Trump back to the TPP framework, but that is still up in the air. On the part of the current Japanese administration, the good news is that the Abe administration is very stable.”

Immediately after World War II, Japan was reluctant to embrace free trade competition and discouraged direct foreign investments, Dr. Iguchi said, and that tradition lingered throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

“This is the day of the reckoning, so to speak, in which Japan must embrace the idea of foreign direct investments,” Dr. Iguchi said. “To what extent and how the rules will be hammered out is up to Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Aso’s leadership.”

The free trade discussion, which has been a conversation in Japanese bureaucracy for years, has recently started to change its tone. According to Dr. Iguchi, over the last 20 years the Prime Minister’s power in Japan has grown steadily through a history of reforms, finally crystallizing under the current Japan leader’s regime. With ultimate decision making in the central bureaucracy – power that used to reside with the finance, economic, industry, and foreign ministries – Prime Minister Abe may finally have the power to welcome direct foreign investment.

“That is very important,” Dr. Iguchi said. “Especially when you consider the fact that possibly Prime Minister Abe might be able to not only act as a political leader of the country, but also as a de facto CEO of the Japanese economy. The latter part, the Prime Minister acting as a CEO, is something analogous to what President Trump might be trying, too.”