As sliding ratings threaten the political future of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the embattled leader is under pressure to prove that his relationship with President Donald Trump remains robust when the two hold a summit on Tuesday.
If Abe, whose reputation at home has been hit by multiple controversies, can prove that the U.S.-Japan alliance is strong in the face of trade tensions and North Korea talks — two issues important to Abe's re-election prospects — that could strengthen his domestic standing.
"Abe wants to return home with concrete evidence that the relationship has stayed out of the rough. The stakes are high for Abe's foreign policy agenda and potentially his political future," advisors at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote in a recent note.
The two leaders are due to sit down at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday, and the mood is expected to be vastly different from the pair's last meeting there more than a year ago. Back then, the relationship was at a high point and likened to a "bromance." Now, their special connection appears to have fizzled out.
Tokyo is one of the few American allies that hasn't been exempted from Trump's steel and aluminium tariffs. Moreover, the U.S. president's decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without consulting Abe sparked fears of Japan being sidelined during nuclear negotiations — an alarming prospect for a country in immediate range of Pyongyang's missiles.