By Tsuyoshi Nagasawa, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga can afford to smile to himself this week, happy in the knowledge that a meeting last month has now turned out to be a goldmine of insight into the policy agenda of the next U.S. administration.
Retired American military intelligence officer Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn met Suga while on a visit to Japan in mid-October, when he stressed the need to review and reassess the U.S. security alliance with Japan. Donald Trump wants to pursue a better bilateral alliance, Flynn is alleged to have said to the Japanese government spokesman.
It is not clear how much importance Suga attached to the meeting, given that Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite in the presidential race at that time. But now that Flynn has been tapped by President-elect Trump as his national security adviser, the Japanese cabinet minister can reap the rewards of the encounter.
Flynn, who was in Japan on the invitation of a U.S. company for which he serves as an adviser, also held talks with a number of other senior Japanese government officials and politicians. They included former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Akihisa Nagashima, a lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party who once served as senior vice defense minister.
In his meetings, Flynn is said to have claimed Trump’s controversial campaign-trail remarks were merely part of the rhetoric needed to secure an election win, according to informed sources. His actual policies after taking office would be different from what he said to galvanize his support base, Flynn predicted.
No detailed comments were made on Trump’s vow to force Tokyo to shoulder more of the costs of keeping U.S. forces in Japan. But Flynn did point out that Japan’s defense spending had remained unchanged despite its warnings about the security threats posed by China and North Korea.
The retired general also offered some clues to other big policy questions facing Japan. One was what the Trump administration would do with the American military and diplomatic rebalance toward Asia that has been promoted by outgoing President Barack Obama.
Referring to the slogan “peace through strength” adopted by the Reagan administration in the 1980s, Flynn indicated that a Trump White House would take steps toward enhancing deterrence to China’s naval expansion and North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile development programs.
The other key issue Flynn discussed was the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Flynn said Trump put no faith in multinational negotiations as he thought it impossible to stick to national interests in such talks.
His views proved accurate on Monday, when the president-elect released a video message in which he vowed to issue a note of intent to withdraw from the trade pact on his first day in office.
Trump’s message dashed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hopes of the new American leader changing his mind on the issue.
Flynn has now emerged as a top adviser to Trump, and could have considerable influence on policy agenda. As a key member of the National Security Council, Flynn, who was present at Abe’s recent meeting with Trump in New York, will play the leading role in developing the Trump administration’s foreign and security policies.
Believing the prevailing forecasts of a Clinton victory, Suga kept his meeting with Flynn close to his chest until the election upset.
He can look back with more than a little satisfaction, and consider the full implications of Flynn’s comments.