The Daily Manila Shimbun


FOCUS: Trump’s stance on Japan-U.S. alliance key to Asia stability

January 9, 2017

WASHINGTON- With U.S. President-elect Donald Trump set to take office on Jan. 20, Japan and other Asian countries are closely watching whether he will modify his stance on alliances and give U.S. allies an early and unequivocal reassurance of Washington's security commitments. While Trump may request that Japan increase its share for the cost of stationing U.S. forces in the country, as he pledged during the presidential campaign, Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to affirm the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance for peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region. After meeting with Michael Flynn, the incoming U.S. national security adviser, on Friday in Washington, Katsuyuki Kawai, a special adviser to Abe, said the two sides agreed to "deepen and expand" the alliance under the new U.S. administration. Kawai and Flynn also affirmed Abe and Trump should meet as early as possible after Trump is sworn in, following recent news reports that Abe plans to visit Washington in late January for talks with Trump. However, there are uncertainties in Japan about Trump's commitment to the alliance, given his suggestion during the campaign that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Japan, South Korea and other allies if they do not pay more of the cost of stationing U.S. forces there. "We defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia...they do not pay us," the Republican businessman said during presidential debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton last year. "We can't defend Japan, a behemoth, selling us cars by the million." Such rhetoric led some experts to suspect that Trump may possess the view that allies are more of a liability than an asset to U.S. interests. In contrast, outgoing President Barack Obama has valued alliances. He said last month the Japan-U.S. alliance "stands as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and a force for progress around the globe." American experts suggest Trump reassure Japan of U.S. commitments under the bilateral security treaty soon after his inauguration, especially as the regional security situation has become tense amid China's military buildup and assertive territorial claims in the East and South China seas, as well as perceived progress in North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons development. More specifically, they urged Trump to affirm, as Obama did unequivocally, that the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, fall under Article 5 of the treaty. The affirmation means the United States will defend Japan in the event of emergencies over the islands. "It will be looked at very closely, I think, not just by Japan but by other players in the region including China as whether or not there is continuity in U.S. commitment toward Japan," said Rust Deming, an adjunct professor of Japan studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Deming, a former deputy chief of mission of the United States to Japan, said that to underscore such continuity, he hopes new secretaries of state and defense will visit Japan at an early date after the launch of a Trump administration. As for Trump's repeated calls for Japan and other U.S. allies to contribute more to deployment costs for the U.S. military, or else defend themselves, Abe is expected to explain to Trump that Japan regards its sharing of about 75 percent of the cost of stationing U.S. troops in the country as an appropriate level. "We should think that both Japan and the United States benefit from the role played by U.S. forces stationed in Japan," Abe said at a parliamentary session in November. "U.S. forces in Japan are the key to Washington's forward deployment strategy and serve to protectvarious U.S. interests." As if to bolster the prime minister's view, a telephone poll conducted in Japan by Kyodo News in late November showed that 86.1 percent of respondents said they do not think Japan should pay more for hosting U.S. troops in the country. Bruce Klingner, the senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, stressed merits for the United States, as a Pacific nation, to maintain military presence in Japan and other parts of the economically dynamic region. "It's not only cheaper to have, in many cases, troops over there rather than here. But far more important than the dollar cost, they are there for our interest including maintaining peace and stability in Asia," Klingner said. "And you can't put a cost on the deterrence that they have -- wars they deter, provocative actions they deter." (Kyodo News)