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Editorial: The U.S. needs to develop strategic diplomacy

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Asia trip is a message that the United States will remain involved in the Asia-Pacific, the growth center of the world. We welcome this intent and would like to see him develop strategic diplomacy.


At his joint press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Nov. 6, Mr. Trump said: “The United States of America stands in solidarity with the people of Japan against the North Korean menace.” Prime Minister Abe also echoed the sentiment, saying, “Japan consistently supports the position of President Trump . . . I once again strongly reaffirmed that Japan and U.S. are one hundred percent together.”


At their meeting, the two nations’ leaders confirmed once again that they will place the maximum level of pressure on North Korea.


Will pressure alone be effective?


There is little chance, however, that North Korea will abandon its development of nuclear weapons and missiles through the single-pronged approach of pressure. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has shown interest in engaging in dialogue with North Korea, but Trump has dismissed dialogue as “a waste of time.” Such a provocative statement serves only to needlessly heighten tensions with Pyongyang.


Prime Minister Abe agrees with President Trump in order to show [to the rest of the world] the “unshakable ties of the Japan-U.S. alliance.” In the event of an emergency situation on the Korean Peninsula, it is Japan that is at risk of suffering great damage. Did the prime minister urge Mr. Trump to pursue a peaceful solution through negotiations to the very end?


Mr. Trump met with a Japanese citizen who was once abducted to North Korea and the families of other Japanese abductees in the reclusive country, and he expressed his intent to cooperate with Japan on the abductee issue. The North Korean authorities are also detaining three U.S. citizens. We look forward to seeing Japan and the United States work together on this issue.


At the press conference, the prime minister said, “The security situation is becoming very tough. We have to enhance our defense capability qualitatively and quantitatively.” In response to a request from Mr. Trump, Abe indicated his intent to increase Japan’s purchase of defense equipment from the United States.


One aspect of this move is likely aimed at addressing the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, a focus issue for the U.S. It must be kept in mind, however, a random defense buildup will invite instability in the region.


The rise of India and the maritime advancement of China


In a speech he gave during his 2009 visit to Japan, former U.S. President Barack Obama said, “American interests are heavily linked to the future of the Asia-Pacific” and he referred to the United States as “an Asia-Pacific nation.”


The pivot to Asia policy, which the Obama administration promoted with great fanfare, was composed mainly of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and a “rebalancing arrangement,” where the U.S. would shift about 60% of its naval and air force assets to the region by the year 2020.


Preoccupied with clearing out the extremist group known as the Islamic State, however, the U.S. has returned the focus of its diplomacy to the Middle East, eclipsing the focus on Asia.


A senior official at the White House has described President Trump’s Asia trip as “aimed at reaffirming American leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”


There is no change in the policy of involvement in the Asia-Pacific region. On the contrary, it is the creation of a diplomatic strategy that broadens the region to include the Indian Ocean. It is a move focused on the rise of India and the maritime advancement of China into the Indian Ocean.


To contain China’s development of military bases in the South China Sea, the United States has implemented “freedom of navigation operations,” where it dispatches warships and other vessels [to the South China Sea]. The Trump administration has performed the operation four times since May, and it will soon catch up with the Obama administration in the number of times of conducting the operation. The U.S. is showing its dauntless attitude toward China’s provocations.


At the same time, Mr. Trump has withdrawn his nation from the TPP, even though the TPP is the foundation for spearheading the formation of the trade framework in Asia. In addition, Mr. Trump is hinting at tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was formed with Canada and Mexico, two TPP member states.


This is equivalent to the U.S. destroying with its own hands the infrastructure of the free trade framework that it has built up. All because of an excessive fixation on the trade deficit.


ISIS has in effect collapsed, and it has become easier for the Trump administration to focus energy on Asia policy. Trump’s stance of viewing Iran as an enemy could ruin this, however. His stance simply serves to needlessly heighten friction with Iran and increase tensions in the region.


Like the missile attack on Syria for using chemical weapons, Trump’s foreign policy is in large part improvised. It is inconsistent and fails to take a broad perspective. It is clear that even the members of the administration are not moving in step.


President Trump changed his plans and will now attend the East Asia Summit, which will be held in Manila on Nov. 14. If he had skipped the meeting, the sincerity of the U.S. commitment to involvement in Asia would have been questioned. This reveals Mr. Trump’s naïve understanding of diplomacy.


Creating a free and open region


The Japanese and U.S. leaders agreed to a strategy for realizing free and open Indo-Pacific. What exactly will be done? We would like to see a blueprint.


China has its one belt one road initiative, while Russia has its eastward shift. There is intensifying competition among major countries that are turning to the region in search of wealth. It will be indispensable for the U.S. to have a strategy if it expects to hold a leadership position.


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