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Japan’s foreign policy strategy needs to be reworked: U.S. presidential election

By Koji Sugimoto

 

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s election as the next president is certain. That is likely to have implications for Japan’s diplomacy. Unlike President Donald Trump, who prefers bilateral deals, if Mr. Biden takes office, his emphasis on multilateral cooperation will raise hopes for promoting free trade and international cooperation in combating global warming. On the other hand, Japan may lose some of the strengths it has demonstrated in diplomacy.

 

The Trump administration continues to intensely confront China. Many Japanese government officials believe that “the U.S.’s hardline stance toward China will remain unchanged regardless of which party, the Democratic or Republican party, is involved,” according to a senior government official. However, China policy might change under a  Biden administration, and any change would have a large impact on Japanese diplomacy. 

 

An official who formulated foreign policy strategy under the former Abe administration said, “One of the good things about President Donald Trump is that he doesn’t urge Japan to follow suit–he didn’t ask Japan to impose exorbitant tariffs on China. In this respect it  was different from past U.S. administrations.” On the other hand, Mr. Biden’s diplomatic brain trust has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a unified response with allies. Under a Biden administration there may be occasions when the U.S. will urge Japan to align with it on trade and human rights issues. 

 

While the Japanese government has sought to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, it has also sought to stabilize Japan-China relations by adopting a more moderate stance than that of the U.S. If a Biden administration seeks to extract China’s cooperation on global warming and other issues and softens its policy toward China, the need for China to seek good relations with Japan would weaken.

 

Mr. Biden indicated during the presidential election campaign that he intends to return to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, from which President Trump withdrew. He has also stated that he will “renegotiate” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Japan would certainly welcome the U.S.’s returning to the two agreements. 

 

However, despite the Trump administration’s antipathy toward multilateral cooperation, the-then Abe administration took the lead in concluding the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11) without the U.S., which helped boost trust in Japan’s diplomacy. There is no denying that the “free and open Indo-Pacific” initiative, pushed forward under Abe’s leadership, received the support of other countries concerned about President Trump’s unilateralism.

 

The odds are good that Japan will lose its diplomatic advantage after the Biden administration starts. The Suga administration will have to rework its foreign policy strategy while maintaining cooperation with the U.S. government.

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