How will Japan face U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy, which has been seen as unpredictable?
It is vital for Japan to seek policy coordination patiently, based on its long-standing alliance with the United States, while being neither pessimistic nor optimistic.
Trump has started preparing for a transition of power, which includes talks with U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump also had a series of telephone conversations with leaders of relevant countries.
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the significance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, Trump called the ties an outstanding relationship and created a friendly mood. They also agreed to schedule a meeting in New York for Thursday. Holding a top-level meeting only nine days after a presidential election is rare.
During his election campaign, Trump, who has no political experience, repeatedly made remarks that disrespected U.S. allies. It is reasonable for Abe to quickly seek a common view of a basic foreign policy. Regarding Japan’s stance toward the alliance and the circumstances in Asia, seeking an understanding from Trump directly holds great significance.
Under the “America First” slogan, Trump has threatened to withdraw U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea and called for those countries to bear significant increases in covering the stationing costs. He appears to mean it, as he has been calling for this for 30 years — ever since trade friction between Japan and the United States became serious.
Trump’s foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, the former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, has also indicated his idea to propose that Japan shoulder more of the costs while denying U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Japan.
Build trusting relationship
There are many past cases of U.S. presidents changing or retracting pledges made during election campaigns. Although the series of remarks made by Trump certainly has aspects of election campaign rhetoric, it is not wise to take them lightly.
In the first place, it is unknown to what extent Trump has grasped the real picture of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Among the U.S. allies, Japan has shouldered a large amount of costs.
The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty not only obliges the United States to defend Japan but also requires Japan to provide land for U.S. bases. That allows the U.S. military to secure an outpost for its forward deployment. The alliance is asymmetrical, but never unilateral.
The Japan-U.S. alliance, as “public asset” that has contributed to peace and stability in Asia, has helped ensure the security and diplomatic influence of the United States and served U.S. economic interests through trade and investment.
If Trump aims to “make America great again,” he should not overlook the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
In the upcoming meeting, Abe should exchange views frankly with Trump about the way a future alliance should be. We hope they will discuss how the two countries will jointly respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and China’s self-righteous maritime advance.
It is also essential for the Japanese government to make efforts to deepen a relationship of trust by having dialogues with members of Trump’s foreign affairs and security team through various channels.