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Commentary: Trump’s foreign policy close to the conservative mainstream

By Yoshihisa Komori, contributing correspondent in Washington


President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan was surprisingly well-received by the Japanese government and people.


I said “surprisingly” because certain Japanese experts and media were very critical of Trump. Does this represent a gap between the people’s wisdom and the experts’ prejudice? There were no demonstrations against his visit like the ones that took place in the ROK.


Trump embarked on his visit to Japan exactly one year after he was elected. For certain experts and the media, he is no longer a president because some pundits have been talking about his imminent resignation or impeachment.


Yet, not only did he not step down, Trump demonstrated his vitality during this Asia tour and presented the outline of his foreign policy. This was captured in his speech at the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam, after his visits to Japan, the ROK, and China.


The main goal of the Asian policy or foreign policy strategy expounded by Trump was a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” This is a policy that has expanded its coverage from East Asia to the Indian Ocean which calls on the democratic sovereign states in this region to build an order based on free and open values.


Actually, this strategy was first proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It was a strategy to cooperate in promoting democracy, the rule of law, and economic development based on the principles of market economy in this region extending from the Pacific Ocean to the Persian Gulf. In concrete terms, this was also a policy to form an alliance of willing democratic nations led by the U.S. and Japan, including India and Australia. The focus of this policy is to confront China’s lawless expansion with such universal values as respect for human rights and adherence to international norms.


It is unprecedented for a U.S. president to coopt and expand on an international concept developed by the Japanese prime minister. However, Trump has unabashedly adopted the policy formulated by Abe, whom he regards as his ally and partner.


In his speech in Danang, Trump upheld “democracy, the rule of law, individual rights and freedom, and freedom of navigation” as the vital principles of an “Indo-Pacific dream,” declaring war on dictators who trample on such principles. In the economic sphere, he cited “unfair trade practices, predatory state industrial policies, and unjust subsidies to state-owned or state-run enterprises” as unacceptable. These were obviously criticism of  and a warning against China.


Trump also made clear in this speech the U.S.’s policy of containing China’s military expansion and North Korea’s military threat with U.S. military power. As he spoke, three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy were deployed in the West Pacific.


From the above, it is apparent that Trump’s new Indo-Pacific policy is actually quite similar to the foreign policy of past conservative Republican administrations in attaching importance to universal democratic values, maintaining strong bonds with Japan and other traditional allies, confrontation with communist dictatorial regimes, and deterrence through military power. The Trump administration’s foreign policy, which has been termed unconventional and eccentric, is surprisingly close to the conservative mainstream.


Japan is regarded as a pivot of this new policy. Yet, will Japan today be able to play such a role? There are probably serious doubts about this.

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