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Japan’s Abe Should Press Trump on Foreign Aid

Prime Minister Uniquely Placed to Weigh in with New Administration

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lands in Washington, DC, today for an Oval Office meeting with US President Donald Trump. The two leaders will then travel to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, spend the weekend having summit meetings and playing a round of golf.

Left: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam January 16, 2017; Right: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the 2017 "Congress of Tomorrow" Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 26, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Officially, the Trump-Abe summit is meant to focus on economic issues, trade, and tariffs. But there are other major issues at stake between the two counties, including their roles in multilateral institutions like the United Nations and burden-sharing as the world’s two largest bilateral international donors.

Both during the campaign and since, Trump and his advisors have made no secret of their hostility toward human rights and international institutions like the UN. Leaked drafts of executive orders would cut funding to the UN, reconsider a broad range of multilateral treaties, and impose deep restrictions on global health service funding.

The human costs could be staggering. Japan and other donor countries will be asked to make up the shortfalls, which will impose new financial burdens on them and other donors. For instance, under Trump’s “global gag rule,” which is far more expansive than those during previous Republican administrations, cuts will affect not only family planning services but many programs on maternal, newborn, infant and child health, HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, and other diseases, to name a few – public health concerns that Japan has invested heavily in for decades in its overseas development program.

Japan and others may try their best, but they won't be able to meet the shortfall. As a result of cuts in care and assistance, morbidity and illness can be expected to increase in the countries most affected.

For the moment, only the gag rule executive order has been signed. But Trump’s evident malice toward international institutions and disregard for the problems they address is not likely to fade.

As the leader of the world’s second wealthiest democracy, Abe is in a unique position to deliver a warning to Trump about the consequences not only of the global gag rule, but of a broader assault on the multilateral institutions on which so many marginalized people depend. Japan’s own human rights failings, for instance on immigration and refugees, should not deter Abe from raising other human rights issues of global concern.

The success of Abe’s visit should be measured by Trump’s willingness to maintain constructive US engagement at the UN and other multilateral institutions. The stakes are too high for Abe to remain quiet.

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