The economic policy of President Trump will have both positive and negative influence on Japanese economy. As the BOJ has just upgraded its forecast for this year, Japanese economy will certainly merit, at least for a short term, from the possible economic boom in the United States as a result of Trump’s economic policy such as radical tax cut, increase in fiscal spending, and drastic deregulation. The Abe administration already seems to try to gain Trump’s gratitude and find business opportunities for Japanese companies by encouraging and helping Japanese business to invest more in the States. For a long term, however, a robust U.S. economy may have destructive impact on Japan.
Mr. Donald Trump will take office as the 45th President of the United States later today. As I ceased to update my blog from personal reasons after he won the election on November 9, I should publish at this timing what I think about Japan and the United States under President Trump.
In the field of international commerce, Trump’s intension to withdraw from already signed Tran-Pacific Partnership agreement is certainly a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Japan just ratified it only a month ago. On national security front, however, Abe must be thinking, or will soon start thinking, to take advantage of the advent of President Trump for realizing his dream of “departure from the postwar regime.” In other words, Abe potentially has an incentive to “deal” with the new president of the United States.
Another big event in the foreign policy field was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor together with President Barak Obama on December 27. I know it is politically incorrect to criticize it. But I don’t think I should follow others blindly to praise no war pledge made by Abe.
They say that one U.S. media reported the speech of the two leaders were both poetic and impressive. However, I found a clear difference between the two. On the one hand, Obama touched the negative aspects of the U.S. history by remembering the internment of Japanese Americans during the war. The world saw at least some sense of self-reflection on its history there. On the other hand, Abe only glorified the soldiers of the two countries and emphasized that the American soldiers pay respects on the brave Japanese soldiers. I am not insisting that Abe should have apologized. But I regret that the speech would have given really positive message to the American people and the world if he had mentioned even a word on the responsibility of then political and military leaders. Although I don’t like manipulative argument by Chinese, I do not think that the power of reconciliation is fully displayed without the insight into the past.
In reality, it is impossible to expect Abe to think in that way. A man who advocates the dissolution of the post-war regime of Japan does not believe that the World War II was really wrong. In fact, Abe has been refusing to call it a war of invasion. While Prime Minister Abe might have gone with President Obama’s making his legacy at Pearl Harbor, President Obama also seemed to go with Abe’s hypocritical performance.
Mr. Donald Trump is elected the forty fifth President of the United States. Aside from the exchange of mutual slanders, the Trump claimed a change from the Obama-Clinton era during the campaign, while Hillary Clinton seemed to substantially legitimize a status quo. American people finally chose a change again, but this time a change to nowhere.
For the people living outside of the United States, the presidential campaign has been seen as one of the most effective tools to spread the American soft power. This time it worked out in the opposite direction.
Personal slanders by both camps were simply ugly. But we now know that such a boasting segregationist or a condescending crime-suspicious character can become the President of the United States. We were surprised and disappointed to find that both the Republicans and the Democrats failed to pick alternatives to such unpopular candidates. We now understand that even the United States suffers from the depletion of the human capital in political leadership.
Through the lens of this presidential race, the divide in the U.S. society has become so clear to the eyes of people all over the world. Even if the United States maintains significant amount of national power, ranging from superb military power, economic might, innovative technology, to still growing population, socially fragmented country is regarded as weak. And too large social divide would eventually deprive the vitality of that state.
The contents of a change also matter. When the past presidential candidates claimed a change, they usually presented something like visions or ideals, even if some of them were fake or undeliverable.
Bill Clinton, facing twin deficits of the budget and the current account after the victory in the Cold War, promised in 1992 to vitalize the U.S. economy by spinning around “It’s the economy, stupid.” He actually changed the traditionally pro-union economic policy of the Democrats to the more pro-business one.
George W. Bush didn’t clearly illustrate the change at his inauguration. But he seemed to make the social security policy of the Republicans more inclusive by “Compassionate Conservatism.” And of course, he led the country to fight terrorism after 9/11.
Then eight years ago, Barak Obama made us believe he would “change” American foreign policy from unilateralism to more multilateral and consultative one. He also called for a “world without nuclear weapons.” Although never regarded as a model abroad, he initiated the “ObamaCare” in the States.
And now, it’s Trump’s turn. Under the slogan “America First,” he does claim a change. But it could be protectionism, it could be abdication of alliance responsibility, and it could be a closure of the American society. For those who voted for Trump, they could be the next values America will hold. But at least for me, they are not appealing at all because of their negative nature. Furthermore, “America First” would weaken the United States. Protectionism will deprive robustness from the U.S. economy. Fewer American responsibilities in the alliance management mean the weaker U.S. leadership and the deterioration of the security environment as a result. Trump’s change is more likely to harm both the image and the interests of the United States.
Some speculate that the way he presented a change was populistic and destructive for the election campaign tactics, and President Trump will become much more realistic. If that’s true, I should be relieved. But at the same time, I will be deeply disappointed at the fraud nature of this election, and American democracy. Therefore, the loss of the U.S. soft power anyway.
More to follow. But the update will be late due to my personal reasons.
Second, the hindrance to the Japan-Russo negotiation from the United States has been weak this time, and Abe seems to be insensitive to it. Recall the Japan-Soviet negotiation in the mid-1950s under Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama. The necessity to improve the relationship with the Soviet Union as it vetoed Japan’s membership in the United Nations mainly drove the government of Japan. Then U.S. government intervened strongly against it.
Tokyo wanted to realize the return of four islands and conclude a Peace Treaty with Moscow. But the State Department was alarmed. Drawing a border between Japan and the Soviet Union in the treaty meant that Japan admitted Russian sovereignty over the rest of Kuril Islands and South Sakhalin, which the United States never admitted. At the height of Cold War, any gain for Moscow was regarded as a loss for Washington. Americans were worried about the domino effects on the issues such as the status of Taiwan and the approval of the People’s Republic of China. The State Department was also nervous if the solution of the Northern Territories may ignite an irredentism in Japan over Okinawa and Ogasawara Islands.
In the process of the negotiation, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu thought that the GOJ should compromise with the return of two islands (Shikotan and Habomais), and had better conclude a peace treaty. In the summer of 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles met Shigemitsu in London and delivered a warning known as “intimidation by Dulles.” He said that the United States will forever stay in Okinawa if the Japanese government admits the Soviet Union full sovereignty over the (rest of) Kuril Islands. On September 9, Dulles told Shigemitsu that the U.S. government considered the four islands, not the two, should be returned to Japan. It was not the advice for the sake of Japan. The State Department reached the conclusion after being convinced that Etorofu/Itrup and Kunashiri/Kunashir were too important for the Soviet Union to give up from the military points of views. In effect, it was the advice to prohibit Japan’s concession.
Prime Minister Hatoyama finally visited Moscow and signed a Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration on October 19, 1956. As a result, Japan and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations. Moscow agreed to transfer Shikotan and Habomais to Japan after concluding the Peace Treaty. Nothing was mentioned about Etorofu/Itrup and Kunashiri/Kunashir. No borderline was drawn between the two countries and two islands of Shikotan and Habomais have never been returned to Japan because the treaty has not ever concluded.
The relationship between the United States and Russia has been deteriorated for the last decade, especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.The Obama administration is not very happy with Abe’s initiative to make a big deal with Putin. But the U.S. administration today is not so serious as to intimidate Japan. The Cold War is over, and current threat from Russia is no more vital.
For his part, Abe does not seem to care much about Washington’s uneasiness. The nature of so called “New Cold War” is bilateral, not global. Japan does not really see material loss if it neglects American anxiety.
Personal character of Abe also facilitates a deviation from the United States. He emphasizes the importance of Japan-U.S. alliance in the context of dealing the threat from China and North Korea. But Abe is fundamentally a nationalist. He visited the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, 2013, causing to lose face of Vice President Joe Biden. As for the matters related to Russia, Abe has been surprisingly stubborn. When the U.S. president was trying to launch a military strike on Syria in order to punish its use of chemical weapons in the late summer of 2013, he avoided committing himself to support Obama, tacitly siding with Putin. Abe’s persistence in the resolution of the Northern Territories issues was basically intact even when Russia annexed Crimea. Although the United States and the EU posed sanctions on Russia and urged Japan to follow, the Japanese government responded only nominally.
What will the United States do if the Japanese and Chinese coast guards or the two militaries clash over the Senkaku Islands?
Needless to say, the United States and Japan are the allies based on Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The U.S. forces have been stationing in Japan for more than seven decades. The United States has strategic concern over rising China as Beijing has seemingly started challenging the present word order. The U.S. trade in goods with Japan in 2015 amounted to 194 billion dollars. And the United States shares the value of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law with Japan much more than with China. Then, can we expect the United States to militarily intervene to help Japan? The answer is not simple.
For the United States, China is at least as important as Japan. The U.S. trade in goods with China in 2015 reached 599 billion dollars, tippling that with Japan. Washington needs Beijing’s cooperation in controlling North Korea and other bad guys. China has a veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Despite the Pivot to Asia strategy, Obama administration has had no choice but to continue to give priority on Middle East and/or Russia. Furthermore, Chinese military is too strong to make war with. Even if the U.S. military can finally win—I believe it will—, the casualties and costs will not be comparable to the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Taliban.
Officially, the U.S. government has an established view on the Senkaku Islands. That is, the U.S. government admits that article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty covers all the territories under the administration of Japan, including the Senkaku Islands, while refusing to take a position on final sovereignty on the Senkakus. This basic line was made clear by early 2000s at the latest, after Ambassador Walter Mondale made a confusing comment in 1996 on the applicability of the Security Treaty in case of a possible Japan-China conflict over the Senkakus Islands. The more China increased provocation around the Senkakus, the higher ranking U.S. government officials, including President Barak Obama in April 2014, repeated this line. Recently, the United States added that the Senkakus have been historically administered by Japan and its sovereignty should not be subject to change unilaterally.
The United States will continue to say that the Security Treaty covers the Senkaku Islands in the foreseeable future. Although I am not sure about President Donald Trump, the U.S. has at least four reasons to do so. First is the historical involvement. The United States administered the Senkaku Islands after the World War II, and returned it to Japan in May 1972. Second, if Washington says that the Treaty does not cover the Senkakus, Japan will see little value on the alliance. The United States will lose the most precious ally in Asia with sophisticated military and big economy, as well as the U.S. bases in Japan. Third, if Washington takes ambiguous position on the applicability of the Treaty over the Senkakus, other U.S. allies would think the United States recoils from China. Then the credibility of the U.S. alliance all over the world will be severely damaged. And finally, the change of the current position may send a devastating signal to Beijing that Washington would tolerate China’s taking over the Senkaku Islands. In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson failed to mention Korean Peninsula when he made a speech about the lines of defense, which led Kim Il-Sung to expect that the United States would not intervene even if North Korean military invades south.
Japan has appreciated the U.S. commitment to apply the Security obligation over the Senkakus. But how effective was it to actually deter Chinese provocation? The answer is mixed. On the one hand, Beijing has so far advanced the scope of activities gradually in the East China Sea, without invoking the Treaty obligation for the United States. On the other hand, China has never tried to use force and seemingly avoided material clash with Japan in the sea area around the Senkaku Islands.
Will the announcement of the U.S. Treaty commitment over the Senkakus continue to deter China’s use of force? As I already explained, there are cases where China finally uses force while intending not to. For example, the possibility of a clash between the two coast guards is higher than even, and it may escalate to a military conflict between the SDF and the PLA in the worst scenarios.
Will the United States be obliged to make war with China in order to defend Japan and the Senkakus, then? I would like to say yes from the standpoint of Japan. But objectively speaking, the interpretation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty will be heavily influenced by the political calculation of the U.S. government.