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Editorial: Abe’s false belief that Japan-U.S. alliance is unchangeable

The relationship between Japan and the U.S. is an important pillar of Japan’s diplomacy. But if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regards the bilateral alliance as an “unchanged principle” and allows himself to stop examining it, his diplomatic options will be limited. It is necessary to pursue diplomatic policies flexibly without relying too heavily on U.S. military power.

 

Abe gave a policy speech at the beginning of the ordinary Diet session that was convened on Jan. 23. During the speech, Abe appeared to be very conscious of President Trump’s inauguration.

 

In the first half of the speech, Abe referred to his visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii at the end of last year, saying: “Former enemies, Japan and the U.S., have become allies bonded by rigid ties through the power of reconciliation. In the past, present, and from now on, the bilateral alliance has been the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy and security policies. The alliance will continue to be an unchanged principle.”

 

Abe’s speech appeared to be a message for President Donald Trump, who advocates “America First” policies and has made it clear that the U.S. will not become the “world’s policeman.” With the speech, Abe apparently intended to keep the U.S. continually engaged in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan.

 

Amid growing regional tensions caused by China’s maritime advance and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, we must recognize that the U.S. military presence is necessary as a police force to deter conflicts.

 

For this reason, Japan needs to sincerely fulfill its obligations, including the provision of bases to the U.S. military as stipulated in the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

 

Nevertheless, if the bilateral alliance is an “unchanged principle,” simply maintaining the alliance could become an absolute requirement, which would limit Japan’s policy options. Consequently, Japan might not be able to say “no” to Trump’s demands to increase its host-nation support.

 

“I anticipate there will be major changes,” said Abe, referring to the anticipated changes in leadership of many countries this year. Abe emphasized that what is most important is to be consistent as we enter an “unpredictable period.”

 

The prime minister went on to say: “Japan will cooperate with countries that share the same fundamental values, such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. As a champion of free trade, Japan will build an economic framework for the 21st century based on fair rules.”

 

At a time when even the U.S. makes light of fundamental values and leans toward protectionism, we give high marks to Abe’s intentions.

 

As the prime minister pointed out, global issues are increasing in severity, including terrorism, refugees, poverty, and pandemics. It is in nonmilitary fields such as these that Japan should actively contribute to resolving problems.

 

Japan’s efforts to resolve these problems will help boost the international community’s appraisal and respect for Japan’s pacifist history following World War II. It is this pacifism that should be the country’s unshakable and unchanged principle. It is important to keep in mind that excessive dependence on the Japan-U.S. military alliance will undermine Japan’s diplomatic capabilities.

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