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Japanese expert on Trump’s Asia tour, diplomatic challenges

Akihiko Tanaka, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS)


U.S. President Donald Trump managed to do well in handling diplomatic policy. He was able to send out the message that [the U.S.] will step up sanctions against North Korea while retaining deterrence against the regime. Despite previous concerns, he was able to win assurance from South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was also of great significance that Southeast Asian nations announced they will implement economic sanctions against the North.


Now is time to size up the effects of the sanctions. We should gauge how the North will respond and decide whether to hold dialogue. Dialogue will become of no use if the regime continues nuclear and missile development.


The U.S. is readying itself for military attacks only to make its deterrence workable. The question is whether the U.S. will wage a preventive war to destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development facilities even in the absence of signs of an impending nuclear attack. This option would violate international law. It also remains unknown whether this would deter North Korea’s counterattack one hundred percent. So this scenario is not feasible. The U.S. would see its authority diminish once the lives of many Korean people and U.S. service members in South Korea were lost.


Nonetheless, the chances of North Korea dismantling its nuclear and missile programs in the face of tougher economic sanctions are slim. The scenario that anticipates resolution of the issue in a year or two is not realistic. It may take five, ten or 20 years. Japan and South Korea should not succumb to the North even though they face nuclear intimidation. But there are fears that the North may accidentally fire nuclear weapons by mistake or miscalculation.  So it becomes critical for Japan to build a ballistic missile defense system.


Japan and the U.S. confirmed the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” as a common diplomatic strategy. I think highly of this as I have long advocated a vision with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region. But it is wrong to perceive this as a way to contain China. This region becomes very important because it has a huge growth potential. The vision overlaps the “One Road” (maritime Silk Road in the 21st century) that China refers to as part of its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. So this makes it easy for China to embrace the strategy.


What becomes important is to do the best to diminish the threat of war in the Indo-Pacific region as much as possible. The northern part of the region’s interior is the site of many conflict zones. It will not become possible to envisage stable growth if the threats of terrorism and civil war are not diminished. It is also necessary to pay close attention to China in the South China Sea, where the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet. It will become critical not to allow China to build any more offshore bases there.


Lastly, Japan demonstrated its presence in leading efforts to clinch a basic deal among the 11 signatory nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The U.S. will not likely return to the TPP as long as the Trump administration is in office, but mainstream American experts on international affairs and the economy want to foster the understanding of demerits of the U.S. not participating in multilateral trade mechanisms within the U.S. Though this is unusual for Japan’s foreign policy, Japan needs to steadily build the TPP mechanism without the U.S. and take the stance of welcoming the U.S. if it decides to rejoin.



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