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President Trump’s changing view of Japan

As soon as President Donald Trump arrived in Japan on Nov. 5, he gave a speech in which he described Japan as a “treasured partner,” repeatedly emphasizing the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance. This is totally different from his past comments on Japan in which he implied the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.


“Japan is a treasured partner and crucial ally of the United States,” the president emphasized in his speech given to American troops and Self-Defense Forces members at the Yokota Base after he got off the Air Force One. “Americans have deep respect for the people of Japan,” said the president, and “Yokota has been one of the most capable operational bases in Japan and, actually, anywhere in the world.”


It is not unusual for President Trump to give a speech at a U.S. military base and praise American troops. However, the president repeatedly mentioned the SDF in the speech, emphasizing the strong relationship between the U.S. military and the SDF, using the phrases “stand alongside” and “side-by-side.” Citing names of SDF generals, the president said “Thank you” as many as four times.


However, in the past, until he won the presidential election, President Trump had made critical comments on Japan.


In September 1987, while considering running for the presidency, Mr. Trump put full-page advertisements in three major newspapers.


“The U.S. has been used by Japan for decades and the country has achieved a strong economy without worrying about defense spending. It is a time for Japan to pay for the U.S. military presence in the country and end America’s enormous trade deficits.”


This happened when the Japanese economy was strong and the U.S. trade deficit with Japan was a problem.


“Do you know we are defending Japan?” Mr. Trump asked an audience at a rally in August last year during the election campaign. “They [Japan] have enough money to pay (for the U.S. military presence in Japan), so why don’t they pay one hundred percent ?” He went on to say, “If they don’t pay, we need to prepare for pulling out our troops.”


However, after the inauguration in January this year, President Trump began changing his stance toward Japan.


Some experts view that remarks made during the election campaign were for the sake of the election. It is highly possible that after the inauguration, the president was briefed every day by the intelligence agencies and the military on security affairs. As a result, the president came around to the view that the U.S. military presence in Japan and the bilateral alliance are crucially important to maintaining the U.S. presence in Asia.


The close relationship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also seems to have influenced President Trump to change his view about Japan. Only nine days after the presidential election in November last year, Abe, ahead of any other leader in the world, went to New York to see President Trump at the Trump Tower. After the inauguration in February, President Trump invited Abe as the very first guest to the U.S. The two leaders played 27 holes at two different golf courses. “The two leaders seem to have deepened their personal relations through golf and built a relationship of trust,” said U.S. Ambassador to Japan Hagerty who had been a senior official of the transition team at that time.


However, America’s massive trade deficits are a special problem to President Trump. Citing trade issues as one of the important purposes of his trip to Asia, the president told the press corps on the Air Force One while heading for Japan, “Fair trade will be a big focus of the trip.”

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