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Panel: Trump’s ‘America First’ Pledge Shocked Japan

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Gage Skidmore

The election of Donald Trump as president followed by his “America first” pledge in his inaugural address shocked Japanese political and business leaders, causing them to wonder about the future value of the Washington-Tokyo security and economic alliances.

Toshiro Nakayama, a professor at Keio University, said in answer to a question at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event Tuesday, “We have to be forward leaning in choosing the United States” as its strategic partner.

Like the other three panel members, he said at the Washington, D.C., think tank, the biggest continuing worry for Japan is the rise of China. In Asia, “Japan may be the only country saying no” to China’s vision of the region. The United States’ presence was a counterbalance to those ambitions.

Nakayama said the Trump presidency throws into question seeing the relationship as “sort of an alliance of co-equals,” as it has developed since the 1990s. It “is not a stand-alone alliance” but applies to the whole region and is based on shared values of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

Several panelists noted values were not mentioned in the inaugural address.

Japan also stepped up its presence internationally by having its self-defense force operate in the Indian Ocean as well as Afghanistan and Iraq from 2005 on, as did NATO in operating far from Europe and considering members not on the continent.

Candidate Trump said NATO members and Japan and Korea needed to do more to provide for their own security and questioned the continued relevance of these multi-national agreements.

Yoichi Kato, a senior research fellow at Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, of “serious concern” in Japan is the possibility Trump “could cut a deal with China ignoring Japan, like [President Richard] Nixon did” in establishing relations with Beijing in the 1970s.

He described the emerging Trump foreign policy as “prioritizing individual interests over common values.” In a way, it resembles that of China in pursuing common interests over values with other nations.

The “‘America first’ policy is all about retrenchment” of the United States from maintaining the international order that includes the U.S.-Japan and NATO alliances that has existed since the end of World War II, Ken Jimbo, an associate professor at Keio University said.

In light of this change, “we [Japan] need cross-referencing with Europe” on countering Russian aggression and Europe needs to understand China’s territorial and economic ambitions in the Asia-Pacific.

In answer to a question, Jimbo said, Japan views Russia as a significant power in Asia. “Something we want to avoid is Russia-China entanglement” in their pursuing common security goals such as missile defense or regional economic groupings. “Russia doesn’t like to pivot to Asia through China,” giving Japan a role to play.

On the economic front with Trump’s withdrawing from the TransPacific Partnership [TPP], Japan probably will work out a bilateral trade arrangement with the United States, but it could take four years to iron out the details, Takashi Terada, a professor at Doshisha University, said. That agreement, in his view “would keep some option for the U.S. to come back” to TPP.

Other economic courses it could follow would be to push for a TPP without the United States or look to larger regional trade agreements involving Russia, China and other Asian-Pacific nations.

The choices for Japan on security come down to internal balancing meaning building up its military capacity, seeking alliances with mid-sized powers such as Australia and Korea, accommodate Chinese ambitions or “keep on hugging the U.S.,” Kato added.

Japan “has no other choice” but to keep on hugging, he said.

  • Kim Chul Soo

    I was in the Corps and served on Okinawa when it was still ours from WWII. Since we have the attention of these folks we need to pressure them to clean up their environmental act. I mean they really need to stop hunting whales and dolphins with reckless abandon. I have never seen more greedy pirates of the sea in my life. These people would eat the last breeding pair of anything.

    • Ron Snyder

      The Japanese would give them a run for their money Kim. I served on Oki for 18 months before it was turned back to Japan.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Insisting that some countries do more to help lessen the burden on our own taxpayers is not ‘abandoning allies’,it is common sense and long overdue. As for Japan in particular, it has long been said, and not always in jest, the surest way to unite the Korean Peninsula is to have one of the countries on it declare war on Japan. Japan, South Korea, and the USA will be fine. What should be more worrisome for all involved are the overtures the Philippines are making towards the ChiComs. but all that is geo-political maneuvering. I don’t think the ChiComs are interested in ‘conquering’ anyone. Well, maybe Taiwan.

  • The Plague

    “…his America first pledge in his inaugural address shocked Japanese political and business leaders…” – oh well, about time for the japanese to be shocked too. They were the single most subhuman bunch in WWII, their literally orgasmic deformed bestiality pales all other war crimes to this day. They would well have deserved to be wiped off the face of the planet wholesale as the abnormal aberration that they are. Clearly, the starvation inflicted on them by the naval blockade and the devastation by LeMay’s firebombing raids had not dealt them sufficient punishment for all their works. Particularly when you consider all the coddling and accommodation afforded to them by the US ever since the end of WWII. God it makes me puke! Wretched, weaseling, deceitful, underhanded population inhabits those filthy islands, same today as it ever was. All the a$$brained “management practices” and “philosophies” that have deformed America’s corporations since the late 80s were imported from japan by the ever servile internationalist academic and media stooges. All that garbage was implemented in the corporate boardrooms by the cret!ns they trained. It’s been long past due for the hepatitis-colored slant-eyed gasbags to be shocked about something from America.

  • Ed L

    TPP hurt the American Economy. American cars, Japan is a left hand drive country like Britain. Upon looking at various sources, Less than a 1,000 Chevy’s were register in 2015. My Daughter spend two weeks in Japan a couple of years back and saw many things she wanted but they were two expensive. So she made a list of them with the prices and upon returning to America found many of the items cheaper here.

  • Ben Roth

    Today, what you say and/or do is almost instantly known around the world. So far, President Trump’s voice and directives are giving pause to many all over the World and domestically. Japan’s reactions to President Trump’s pronouncements are understandable and the President needs to think very hard before he uses these broad sweeping statements to stoke his ego and his chauvinistic reactionary base.
    Japan is a very good ally and if we wish to remain a real super power a very necessary ally. Can our relationship improve? Most certainly. However, maintaining and improving relationships requires that bluster to be put away.

  • old guy

    In 1979, I was the info exchange officer to Japan. They wanted Technology on SWATH (Small Waterline area twin hull ships.) I met with Drs, Oshima and Kunitake *both Brilliant and clever men. When I asked what they wanted to trade for it, they appeared shocked and said that I was the FIRST US rep to ask for reciprocal offer IN 25 YEARS. They said that they were complimented that I thought that they had useful information. They had always felt before that we held them in low esteem. Incredible.

  • AmPatriotSmith

    When we watch all these outbreaks of protests against Trump’s policies, all negative smeared on the front page of Yahoo, people have a tendency to believe it to be gospel. With that being said, I still don’t think Trump understands geopolitics, especially concerning alliances and trade.