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Kazamidori column: Blind spot in honeymoon of Japan-U.S. ties

By Naoya Yoshino from Washington


Are there any blind spots in the robust relationship between Japan and the U.S,? There appears to be one lurking ominously on the U.S. side. Michael Flynn resigned as national security advisor to President Donald Trump over the allegation that he had promised a high-profile Russian official that the U.S. would lift its sanctions. Even after his resignation, media reports on the close contact between this close aide of Trump and the Russian official continue to be published.


The backdrop of this situation is the traditional view within the U.S. that Russia is a threat and a hostile nation. Trump criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for wiretapping his phones without presenting evidence. He apparently resorted to this tactic to deflect media attention. Now it will be no easy task for Trump to improve U.S. ties with Russia.


Change is also underway in the U.S. relationship with China. Beijing zeroed in on Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka and a senior advisor in the Trump administration. Soon after China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi visited the U.S. and met with Kushner at the end of February, Washington and Beijing began coordination to arrange summit talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.


Kushner reportedly associated with the Chinese-American business community when he was doing business in New York. In this sense, he is different from those who call for taking a hardline approach to China in the White House. In the U.S., China is viewed as a “distant nation” compared with Russia. This suggests that people have less negative feeling about China than Russia.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will continue to negotiate with Russia to make progress on the Northern Territories issue. The inauguration of Trump, who advocated the improvement of U.S.-Russia ties, was expected to become a tailwind for Japan’s efforts to build closer ties with Russia, but the tide has turned since then. Meanwhile, if Trump moves closer to China, a threat to Japan, after his meeting with Xi, the strength of the Japan-U.S. ties may be shaken.


“The Ron-Yasu relationship (between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone) was not perfect at the beginning, but thanks to Yasu’s effort, the relationship became like a full moon,” said Takashi Mikuriya, an honorary professor at the University of Tokyo.


“The (relationship between Abe and Trump) seems like a full moon, but on specific issues, their ties may eclipse,” he said. The emergence of differences in the Japanese and U.S. leaders’ perspectives on China and Russia may become a blind spot in the robust Japan-U.S. relationship. (Abridged)

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