Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has arrived in Trinidad and Tobago (Link - J) for a two day visit (Link), a part of his 11 day summer smash tour of five Latin American and Caribbean countries (Link). Tomorrow, he will be meeting with 14 heads of state attending the CARICOM conference, adding a big chunk to his already impressive list of meetings with heads of states. He then heads on to stops in Colombia, Chile and Brazil.
While the first visit of a prime minister of Japan to Latin America in a decade -- yes, the last Japanese premier to survive in office long enough to make such a trip was Koizumi Jun'ichiro -- should be significant in its own right, the leisurely (for Abe Shinzo) jaunt is being treated as an echo of Xi Jinping's July 15-22 visit to the region. (Link).
To be brutal but fair, the Abe visit does pale beside the Xi tour. Xi came to the region as a collaborator in the establishment of a new world order (the BRICS summit in Brazil - Link), as a big time customer of a national champions (Link), as a banking hyperpower (Link) and as a potential savior of limping, pariah economies ( Link and Link). Abe comes as a supplicant (groveling for votes for a UN Security Council non-permanent seat, which permanent member China never has to do - Link), as a top salesman of Japanese goods and services (with 70 Japanese corporate executives in tow, including the head of the Nippon Keidanren Link - J), as a celebrant of his blood ties to better, bolder times in Japan's diplomatic history (Link - J) and as a guarantor that Japan is not dilly-dallying on the Trans Pacific Partnership. (Link)
Not an impressive comparison. Just in terms of striking business deals, a customer is usually far more welcome than a salesman.
However, Abe will come away from his long summer trip with his reputation for incessant activity intact. He has in 18 months in office made 23 trips abroad. Admittedly, 10 of those trips abroad were for international conferences. Still, he has touched down in at least 3 countries on a single trip 11 different times since he became premier in December 2012. By September he will set a new record for all postwar prime ministers in terms of number of foreign countries visited -- and this only from his current term, not counting the countries he visited his first 2006-07 term. (Link - J)
Maybe he should take on "The Blur" as a nickname...
Later - Clint Richards of The Diplomat delivers a more positive review of Abe's Latin Swing. (Link)
Later still - Peter Ford of The Christian Science Monitor talks to Japan-based experts regarding the Xi vs. Abe comparison, among them the prime minister's most important message sculptor. (Link)
As for the psychological underpinnings of the trip, The Japan Times offers a compilation article with yes, more Taniguchi. (Link)
Original image courtesy: Abe Shinzo official Facebook page.