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Editorial: Trump’s ascent allows Japan to pursue own foreign agenda

How will Donald Trump’s presidency affect Japan’s relationship with the United States?

This question will inevitably be a major topic for debate between the ruling and opposition parties during the current regular Diet session.


In his policy speech at the outset of the session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the vital importance of the bilateral alliance for Japan.


“The Japan-U.S. alliance has been, is and will be the cornerstone of our nation’s foreign and security policies,” Abe declared. “This is an unchanging principle.”


His use of the strong phrase “unchanging principle” to describe the bilateral alliance appears to reflect his ardent desire to ensure that Trump, who has adopted an “America First” slogan and pledged to keep his country from being the “policeman of the world,” will maintain U.S. involvement in the Asia-Pacific region.


The security environment in the region is certainly growing increasingly tense due mainly to China’s aggressive naval expansion and North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs.


Japan’s relationship with the United States is as important as ever for maintaining peace and stability in the region.


Even so, Japan should not use the “unchanging principle” as a pretext for continuing to simply and aimlessly follow in the footsteps of the United States in its foreign policy.


During the Jan. 23 Lower House session for party representatives to question the prime minister over his policy speech, Yoshihiko Noda, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party, pointed out that Trump’s inauguration speech didn’t include key words expressing values shared by Japan and the United States, such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Noda then asked Abe’s thoughts about Trump’s inaugural address.


Abe’s response was disappointing. He only said the two countries are “allies solidly bound by the ties of universal values.”


Abe is responsible for sufficiently stressing the importance of universal values during his soon-to-be-held meeting with the new U.S. president.


The Abe administration needs to make every effort to prevent Trump’s America from retreating into a protective shell of isolationism. This is crucial for protecting the international order and ensuring that the Japan-U.S. relationship will remain functioning as a “public asset” for the Asia-Pacific region.


This challenge requires Japan to avoid any action that could raise international doubts about its perceptions concerning history and other diplomatically sensitive issues.


Late last year, immediately after Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who accompanied the prime minister on the trip, visited Yasukuni Shrine.


When Hiroshi Ogushi, chairman of the Democratic Party’s policy research committee, asked Abe’s view about Inada’s visit to the war-related Shinto shrine in Tokyo, the prime minister just said, “I’d like to refrain from responding (to the question).”


It is important to remember that Japan returned to the international community by accepting the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which acknowledged the responsibility of the Class-A war criminals, or Japan’s wartime leaders convicted of war crimes.


A Japanese political leader’s visit to the shrine, where these Class-A war criminals are enshrined, could hurt Japan’s relations with its neighbors and raise unwanted suspicions in the international community including the United States and Europe.


Japan needs to ask itself anew what kind of role it should play in Asia and the world and what kind of behavior it needs to display to win the trust of other countries.


Japan should use the advent of the Trump White House as an opportunity to pursue its own foreign policy agenda independently.

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