Japan’s change of heart on TPP good for English

Power Play – Bill English is wrapping up his first trip to Asia as Prime Minister – but was it a success?

Prime Minister Bill English, left, with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference in Tokyo.
Photo: AFP

The commitment of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership clearly came as a surprise to both Mr English and his Trade Minister Todd McClay.

With any agreements, commitments or understandings, it is generally the work of officials and ministers in the lead-up to a leaders’ meeting where the hard graft is done, then the leaders get to have the glory and what journalists refer to as: The Grip and Grin.

In terms of Shinzo Abe’s sudden decision to get back on the TPP-train Mr English credits Mr McClay’s work getting around the region talking up the agreement and trying hard to convince the other remaining 10 nations that it’s worth sticking with.

It may be Mr McClay’s hard work that helped convince the Japanese, but it is also true that Japan is increasingly nervous about its rogue neighbour, North Korea.

The TPP is both a trade deal and a strategic deal and with Japan having it written into its constitution that it can’t use war as a means to settle international disputes, it needs strong allies – hence its obvious preference at having a deal which involves the United States.

Mr Abe wants the TPP text to remain as it is, which means the United States will get the benefits of the agreement even if it isn’t signed up.

But it also means it is easy enough for the United States to rejoin the grouping should it wish to in the future.

Either way the change of heart by the Japanese looked good for Mr English after his first major meeting in Asia as Prime Minister.

Mr English has a different style to his predecessor John Key on the international stage.

In less formal meetings, like business lunches and meet and greets, Mr Key always had at least one or two (often self-deprecating) jokes that he would tell…

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