Trump’s Asia Foreign Policy: Japan’s Role in the Coming Age

Donald Trump’s policy advisers Alexander Grey and Peter Navarro recently posted an article entitled “Donald Trump’s Peace Through Strength Vision for the Asia-Pacific” in the online Foreign Policy magazine. It offers insight into the likely direction of Trump’s Asia Policy.


The Strategy of Peace Through Strength

Below are the main points discussed in the article:

  • In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would begin a military “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, but that turned out to be an imprudent case of talking loudly but carrying a small stick, one that has led to more aggression and instability in the region.
  • Over time, the administration drastically cut the U.S. military — particularly by shrinking a U.S. Navy expected to be the tip of the pivot spear, thus nullifying any attempt to pivot to Asia.
  • Beijing has created some 3,000 acres of artificial islands in the South China Sea with very limited American response, largely because of its shrunken forces. Beijing has expanded its illegitimate territorial claims in the East China Sea, everywhere from India to Indonesia.
  • Secretary Clinton faithfully executed the Obama administration’s failed policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea, and produced nothing but heightened instability and increased danger.
  • The Obama administration’s failure to intervene in 2012 when China brazenly seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines after agreeing to stand down, has no doubt contributed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent move toward a China alliance.
  • Trump’s approach is two-pronged. First, Trump will never again sacrifice the U.S. economy on the altar of foreign policy by entering into bad trade deals with other countries. Second, Trump will steadfastly pursue a strategy of peace through strength. To do this, Trump has pledged to rebuild the U.S. Navy, lost during the Obama administration.
  • It is only fair that each country steps up to the sharing of military costs.


Obama Nullified the Pivot to Asia

In response to the U.S.’s proposed ‘pivot to Asia’, China raised the foreign policy slogan “New Major Country Relations”. In a meeting between Xi Jinping, Chairman of China, and President Obama in June 2013, the two came to an agreement to establish new major country relations.

But the big problem was that the Obama administration lacked a counter-China strategy and remained in the grey zone as to what ‘new relations’ actually meant. The result was that the pivot to Asia was nullified.

The article’s remarks about the Philippines are also true.

The U.S. remains ambiguous as to the effectiveness of the Mutual Defense Treaty in relation to the Filipino territorial issues. Director of Japanese Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Auslin, rightly maintains that improving relations with the Philippines is a top Asia Policy priority.


Increasing Responsibilities for Allied Countries

Peace Through Strength means to increase military power to bolster the role of the peace protector. Despite this, the U.S. has continued to push for an increase in responsibility for NATO and allied Asian countries.

The reason for this lies in U.S. domestic affairs. In his first interview after the elections, Trump said:

“You know, we’ve been fighting this war for 15 years… We’ve spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, $6 trillion – we could have rebuilt our country twice. And you look at our roads and our bridges and our tunnels… and our airports are… obsolete.”

In other words, the U.S. needs to spend money on rebuilding its infrastructure first.


What Should Japan Do?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Hillary Clinton during the election period, but did not visit Trump: perhaps he was afraid of being criticised by Trump for the unilateral nature of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

This imbalance is a problem. Japan cannot sit idly by and watch American soldiers perish as they try to save Asia in times of trouble. Of course Japan has been shouldering some costs, but most of their defense relies heavily on the U.S. Japan is getting away with not having to spend money they should be spending on national defense.

Some people in Asia, like Filipino President Duterte, want more help from Japan than from the U.S. However, Japan must aim to become the right-hand-man to the U.S. in their role as the world’s policeman.

A sincere consideration of Trump’s request would naturally lead to Japan’s decision to pull its weight in the unilateral relationship, which can only be achieved through the amendment of Article 9 (Constitution of Japan). Forget about securing political power; think of future happiness. If we do so, the next elections in Japan will have to revolve around a discussion of a constitutional amendment. (Hanako Cho)

Trump’s Asia Foreign Policy: Japan’s Role in the Coming Age
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