Japan's Early Opportunity to Shape Trump's Emerging Asia Policy
Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has transformed Japanese diplomacy. Under his leadership, Japan has ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as a strategic instrument to bind like-minded nations, forged new alliances beyond Tokyo's traditional U.S. orbit in South and Southeast Asia, become a military supplier to Asian nations determined to resist Chinese hegemony, reinterpreted constitutional constraints to expand Japan's role as a regional security provider, and reached out to Europe and Russia as extra-regional partners to help bring balance to Asia.
As he prepares to meet U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in New York on Thursday, Abe now faces perhaps his most important test: convincing a uniquely skeptical American leader that the U.S.-Japan alliance is central to American interests in Asia -- and that rather than walking away from President Barack Obama's "pivot" to Asia, the new Republican administration should double down on it.
Trump certainly gave Abe grounds to worry during the campaign, questioning the value of the U.S.-Japan alliance, suggesting Japan should acquire nuclear weapons to defend itself, and threatening a new form of protectionism that would jettison not only TPP but America's commitment to the liberal trading order writ large.
Lest we forget, however, it was Obama who originally derided U.S. allies as "free-riders," slashed defense spending in ways that made the U.S. "rebalance" look hollow, failed to reinforce a declared red-line in Syria that emboldened American adversaries farther afield, and allowed China to militarize the South China Sea with impunity.