After Donald Trump’s November 2016 election, the future looked bright for the US’s alliance with the Land of the Rising Sun. The first foreign leader to visit the US and meet personally with then President-elect Trump was Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, who flew to New York to congratulate The Donald in person. Shortly after that in December, Trump met with Japanese telecom mogul Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of Softbank, and discussed major investment opportunities for Softbank in America–music to Trump’s ears. The two billionaires were quite comfortable in each other’s company, showing a degree of informal-ness that took the Japanese public off guard (Trump referred to Son time and time again in interviews by his nickname “Masa,” which is contrary to Japan’s strict etiquette). Abe visited Trump a second time shortly after his inauguration, when the two put business aside and hit the links in Florida, just like old buddies. Despite these promising encounters during Trump’s first months as President-elect and later as President, a recent article appearing on Nippon.com seems to hint that the 65 year Japan-US alliance is doomed to set.
The article, Can the Japan-US Alliance Survive the Trump Presidency? by Nakayama Toshihiro (Professor of American politics and foreign policy, Keiō University), highlights concerns over Trump’s erratic foreign policy–surely Japan is not alone in their uneasiness. Japan had been enjoying eight years of an Obama presidency and his policy of “rebalancing toward Asia.” This rebalancing came at a time when Japan, too, was making moves to improve ties with its Asian neighbors–not only with South Korea and China, but also with smaller countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. This renewed confidence in Asia may have been what spurred the creation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral, multi-continental trade agreement among twelve nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Under Trump’s policy of America-first, the US’s pivot to Asia seems to have come to an end. The fact that on his first day in office Trump kicked the legs out of any possibility of the US’s participation in TPP drove home the America-first message. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was banking on the success of TPP to both strengthen Japan’s manufacturing exports to places like Central and South America, while at the same time boosting its agricultural imports from southeast Asia. Now that the US has pulled out of the deal, a few of the remaining nations, whom Japan depends on, may also follow suit.
Trump took his first overseas diplomatic trip this past week, choosing to go to Saudi Arabia of all places. Although this may appear to be yet another example of his pivoting away from Asia and thus a deescalation of the Japan-US alliance, it is the opinion of this blogger that Prime Minister Abe and Japan have nothing to fear in terms of garnering future favor from the US. New construction of US military installations in Okinawa is continuing according to schedule, and as long as North Korea’s boy-leader Kim Jong-un keeps playing with fire, Japan will remain the US’s strongest and most important ally in Asia and the greater Pacific region.