Chinese state media has deemed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with President-elect Donald Trump a failure while warning Tokyo not to feel emboldened by the alliance in the South China Sea, a sign that Trump’s decision to grant Abe his first one-on-one visit with a foreign head of state has rattled Beijing.
In an article titled “Trump meets Abe, but fails Japan,” the state-run Global Times criticizes Abe for meeting with Trump, claiming that Abe’s “zero-sum mentality” will ultimately doom Japan’s growth as an influential power. “Abe chose to seek US support to contain China and reform Japan’s pacifist constitution out of its fear of a rising China, with an aim of making Japan a bigger political power in the world,” the Times alleges. “However, this zero-sum mentality ensures that Japan will have to take on the role of the US’ ‘little brother.'”
In addition to these semi-official remarks – the government controls these outlets, but their articles are not official government statements – the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday warning the Japanese government not to meddle in the South China Sea territorial disputes. Warning that the meeting with Trump has relegated Japan to a “little brother” role while fretting that Japan may now be more influential in Asia belies concerns that the Abe-Trump meeting went better than hoped for.
“We urge Japan, as an outsider, to learn from the past, not to undermine regional efforts to safegurd peace and stability on the South China Sea, and not to stir up enmity,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, reportedly responding to Japanese officials once again denouncing China’s belligerence in the region.
Beijing has illegally claimed the maritime territories of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, and lost a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague challenging their claims. China has chosen to ignore this verdict, however, and has continued to build artificial islands and military facilities in the sovereign territory of other nations.
While Japan does not dispute any territory in that Sea, Abe’s administration has expressed interest in participating in exercises meant to curb China’s colonization of the territories in question. Japan also claims the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China claims and has renamed the Diaoyu.
Abe became the first world leader to meet the President-elect on Thursday, stopping in New York on the way to Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. Following the private meeting, Abe told reporters that he had a “very candid discussion” with Trump and, “I am convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader with whom I can have full confidence.”
“It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop by my home and begin a great friendship,” Trump said of the meeting in a public post on Facebook, reciprocating the cordiality. The two have agreed to meet “at a convenient time” soon to discuss geopolitical issues “more deeply.”
Trump’s positive meeting with Abe eased tensions he exacerbated as a candidate when he suggested that Japan should be able to defend itself and potentially develop nuclear weapons. “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea,” Trump said in April. While Abe’s administration replied with an adamant rejection of nuclear development as an option, Abe’s administration has been largely defined by his efforts to increase Japan’s self-defense capabilities, including promoting a constitutional amendment that would allow Japan to have a military.
Abe is not the only potential rival of China’s that Trump appears to have charmed. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has on multiple occasions referred to President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore,” responded to Trump’s election by suggesting that he would be more cordial to the United States following the transfer of power.
“I don’t want to fight because Trump is there… I would like to congratulate President Trump. Mabuhay ka (May you live)!” Duterte said last week, adding that he likes Trump because “We both curse. For any small reason, we curse. We are kind of similar.”