By former Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato
In a sense, President Donald Trump’s latest visit to Asian countries was to showcase his omnidirectional diplomacy. Although he skipped the last scheduled meeting of the East Asia Summit, the president seems to have focused on having bilateral meetings with other national leaders throughout the visit.
The president’s trip to Asia was significant in terms of demonstrating U.S. engagement in Asia. Currently, the U.S.’s two top security priorities are the Middle East and Russia, which is at odds with U.S. over the Ukraine issue, so the priority of Asia is not so high. Under the circumstances, it was meaningful for President Trump and his aides to have been able to get a first-hand sense of the future importance of Asia through the latest visit.
The president’s first stop was the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base in Japan. He must have felt the importance of U.S. Forces Japan and the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance in East Asia. With North Korea’s operational deployment of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missile becoming real, it was significant and natural that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump agreed to maximize pressure on North Korea to stop the country from further pursuing its nuclear and missile ambitions.
I believe that in the eyes of the U.S., Japan’s position is similar to that of the UK and China’s position to that of the former Soviet Union in Europe. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was a military-oriented country, China focuses both on the military and the economy, and this makes it difficult for the U.S. to deal with the PRC. President Xi Jinping invited President Trump to the Old Palace as if Xi acted like a Chinese emperor. Probably, President Trump did not agree with Xi’s sense of values but might have been impressed by the way China rules the country.
After visiting Japan, South Korea and China, President Trump probably realized that it would not be easy to resolve the North Korean issue because of differences among the three countries over the issue. It would be impossible to make and implement a plan for resolving the North Korean issue without taking into account China’s strategy.
At the joint press conference after the U.S.-China summit meeting, President Xi said, “The Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both China and the U.S.” In this way, President Xi proposed “G-2 scheme” to share the Pacific region between China and the U.S. It was natural for Beijing to make such proposal, but if China makes steady progress in such a strategy, it would lead to diminishing U.S. prestige in the region and eventually undermine U.S. national interests.
It is understandable that the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy still lacks details, but I hope the U.S. will launch its Asian policy by reexamining future changes in the regional military balance and China’s moves.
What Japan should do is to deepen discussions with the U.S. about China and align its views with those of the U.S. In order to have the U.S. fully play its role in maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan also needs to play its role. To enhance Japan’s deterrent capability, Tokyo must increase its defense budget, revise the Constitution and deepen open discussions about nuclear, energy, and cybersecurity issues.