By Shigeru Ishiba, member of the House of Representatives
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump played 27 holes of golf together and dined together four times when they held their first summit talks in Washington in February. “Chemistry” is a very important factor in relationships between heads of state. So I think it’s excellent that Mr. Abe and Mr. Trump seem to have good chemistry.
As for myself? I’m not a very sophisticated person. Rather, I’m a commoner. So if you were to ask me whether I would have good chemistry with such a billionaire, I’d say it’s unlikely.
The U.S. is in a state of turmoil. A U.S. federal appeals court has upheld its temporary suspension of President Trump’s order that restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Anti-Trump protests continue to be held in the U.S. and Mexico and European nations are taking a cold attitude toward the U.S. Mr. Trump also abruptly ended a phone call in late January with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a heated discussion over immigration. China and Russia are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Despite such circumstances, the leader of Japan, the world’s third largest economy, didn’t think twice before rushing off to the U.S. So it’s only natural that Mr. Trump thinks Mr. Abe is his true friend. I think it’s great that the summit was successful. But it’s important to take a step back and face reality in a calm manner.
Mr. Trump’s behavior shows that he thinks like a businessman who prioritizes current profits over those in 10, 50 or even 100 years in the further. For him, “current” may mean the period leading up to the midterm election next fall. He basically seems to think that he needs to demonstrate “current profits” by the time of the midterm election, when all U.S. representatives and one-third of senators are up for reelection.
Someone had predicted that Mr. Trump would be a “president of suspense and deals.” I think that’s true if we look at the way he tries to bring in current profits when negotiating with foreign countries. He aims to conclude the most favorable deal for himself by making his counterparts nervous.
Japan shouldn’t suffer a disadvantage by being swayed by such intentions. If he proposes a deal to Japan, Japan should have an unwavering spirit and persuade its counterpart based on accurate information for its own national interests.
I think security should be given the highest priority in Japan-U.S. deals.
The joint statement released after the Japan-U.S. summit says, “The U.S. commitment to defend Japan through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, is unwavering.” The statement also includes the application of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security to the Senkaku Islands for the first time. This is welcome news indeed, but Japan shouldn’t start jumping for joy and feel relieved to hear that the U.S. will defend Japan.
Since the election campaign, Mr. Trump has been repeating his call for the Japanese government to shoulder more of the cost of keeping U.S. military forces stationed in Japan. During the latest summit, the two leaders apparently didn’t touch on the subject, but that doesn’t mean the issue will be left unaddressed forever.
We also need to keep in mind that the U.S. may start complaining that U.S. taxpayers have to pay for the entire cost of operating the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear aircraft carrier and F-22 fighters even though Japan benefits from them under the American nuclear umbrella. No past U.S. presidents have brought up the subject, but their “common sense” was different from the thinking of Mr. Trump.
For example, Japan already contributes to 75% of the cost of stationing U.S. troops in Japan, while Italy pays 41%, South Korea shoulders 40%, and Germany pays 33%. What will be important is to avoid talking about sums of money, such as, “We can pay up to this much” or “We want to get a discount.”
What will be most important is for Japan and the U.S. to share the same understanding about the security situation surrounding Japan and discuss what each should do for defense.
For instance, how do we view the China threat? The Obama administration ultimately turned a blind eye to China’s construction of seven artificial islands in the South China Sea. Although the administration conducted “freedom of navigation operations” in the region by dispatching vessels, it did not clearly show its opposition to the construction of the artificial islands.
Artificial islands are “unsinkable aircraft carriers.” China is cunningly building resorts on the islands to accommodate civilians and avoid military pressure.
The U.S. fully understands this situation, so it is swiftly beefing up its military bases in Guam. Unlike its bases in Okinawa, aircraft can be stored in nuclear shelters and submarines can be dispatched from underwater.
This raises questions about what Japan should do, with China as its neighbor and North Korea accelerating its missile development.
Some will say that Japan should increase its fleet of escort ships, submarines, or fighters to assume the role previously played by the U.S. To finance the cost, we can reduce the cost of the U.S. military in Japan and increase defense spending.
We have to reconsider from scratch how the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty should function and the role of the Self-Defense Forces, taking advantage of the presidency of Mr. Trump, who radically veers from the predetermined course.
Although Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security will be applied to the Senkaku Islands, the Japan Coast Guard and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will be the first to be mobilized in a contingency. Unfortunately, it was decided in Diet deliberations on the security legislation two years ago that “gray zone” incidents, such as occupation of the Senkaku Islands by armed fishermen, would be addressed by improving the operation of the existing security legislation.
The police and the SDF vying for authority is of no importance. Both sides can readily take action if an agreement has already been made in peacetime. Having a new legal system doesn’t mean we can immediately act. Rather, we have to carry out meticulous training according to the new system. So laying the legal groundwork for gray zone incidents requires immediate attention.
I met with Michael Flynn (the Trump administration’s former national security adviser who resigned in February due to his contact with Russia before taking office) during his visit to Japan last October. He said that Mr. Trump is wise enough to quickly understand that the Japan covers 75% of the cost to keep the U.S. military and that Japan should instead raise issues concerning the concept of the Japan-U.S. alliance to elicit a reaction from the U.S.
I think now is the time for Japan to actively bring up issues regarding the future of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in order to maintain its independence and peace.
How to protect the livestock industry
We should also remember that agricultural products may come under fire when the Trump administration tries to protect its current profits.
In the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, Japan successfully protected the domestic rice, wheat, beef and pork, sugar, and dairy industries. But Mr. Trump has already decided to pull out of the trade deal.
The U.S. may start demanding that Japan import more U.S. beef and pork. The quality of pork, in particular, is equal in Japan and the U.S. How to protect Japan’s national interests under such conditions is an absolutely crucial issue and directly leads to the question of how to protect Japan’s livestock industry.
Basically, Japan needs to increase added value and lower costs to protect the industry. But the reality of Japan’s pork industry shows that it’s reducing costs to the bone. Also, pork is not traded at high prices. We have to seriously reconsider these issues.
The success of the Abe-Trump summit doesn’t mean everything is settled now. Under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the Japan-U.S. relationship has just arrived at the starting line.