Japanese officials view U.S. President Donald Trump’s renewal of his criticism of the longstanding Japan-U.S. Security Treaty as just another page out of his playbook and a negotiating tool.
A Foreign Ministry official noted that the president’s remarks at a news conference in Osaka on June 29 after the Group of 20 summit, in which he called the treaty “unfair” and stressed the need for “change,” are not surprising, given his longtime stance on the security alliance.
“(Trump) mentioned it as an extension of his pet argument that U.S. allies are not shouldering enough of the costs for the alliance with the United States,” the official said. “The allies should pay more is his position.”
Although Trump said he is not thinking about withdrawing from the decades-old defense pact, he labeled it an “unfair agreement” at the news conference.
“And I’ve told him that for the last six months,” Trump said, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Trump also said he told Abe that they have to “change” the accord and that the prime minister will have “no problem with that.”
But a senior official with the Abe administration denied that the president has ever “officially” conveyed his dissatisfaction with the treaty to the Japanese side.
Under the treaty, signed in 1951 and revised in 1960, the United States is obligated to defend Japan if it is attacked. In return, it is allowed to base military forces in Japan. However, Japan is not bound to come to the assistance of the United States if it comes under attack.
A high-ranking official with the Defense Ministry added that it is less likely for a review of the security treaty to emerge as a key agenda item that the two countries will grapple with.
“My take is that Trump does not have the intent to overhaul the treaty, but aims to win a big concession from Japan in bilateral trade talks by linking the defense issue to trade,” the Defense Ministry official said.
But even though the president does not mean to change the security pact, he may raise the topic more in the coming months to wrest concessions from Tokyo on the business front as its trade negotiations with Washington go into full swing after the Upper House election on July 21.
“Calling the treaty ‘unfair’ is Trump’s strategy to cow Japan into swallowing U.S. demands in trade negotiations and into buying more U.S. defense equipment,” said Yujin Fuse, a journalist who is well versed in the issue of the U.S. military in Japan.
He also said Trump’s and many U.S. critics’ argument that the security treaty is unfair is off the mark.
“The United States can swiftly deploy its military all over the world due to its U.S. bases in Japan,” Fuse said. “Washington has benefited more than just bearing the burden of protecting Japan. The Japanese government should argue back resolutely.”
Former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said Tokyo and Washington complement each other under the security treaty.
“Everybody in defense and the alliance knows that,” he said. “Tokyo has shouldered a big chunk of the cost to make it possible for the stable use of bases in Japan by U.S. forces and has purchased U.S. weapons to cooperate with Washington.”
Japanese officials suspect that Washington may also be intending to maintain the initiative in talks with Japan over Japan’s host nation support to the United States by speaking tough about the security treaty.
Washington is poised to demand higher payment by Tokyo when the two come to the negotiating table for a new agreement on Japan’s share of the cost of stationing the U.S. military in Japan.
The current agreement expires in March 2021. Japan pays about 200 billion yen ($1.87 billion) annually of the tab.