BY JULIAN RYALL
TOKYO — Immediately after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party won an overwhelming majority in the Upper House election on July 10, there was a surge in confidence that the Japan-U.S. alliance had been reinforced and that the two long-time allies would be able to push ahead with contributing to security in the Asia-Pacific region.
The sense was that the Japanese public had endorsed the plans of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to revise the sections of the constitution that have for the last seven decades severely limited the operational capabilities of Japan’s Self Defense Forces.
Abe and his conservative allies have stated repeatedly that they intend to turn Japan into a “normal country,” one with a military that can be deployed to take an active role in multinational operations, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And while countries like China and North Korea issue dire warnings that a new militarist regime is plotting to invade and sack mainland Asia, just as imperial Japan did in the early years of the last century, proponents of constitutional change here insist that modern-day Japan only wants to be able to protect its own territory and to contribute in a meaningful way to global security.
A great deal of that optimism has evaporated in recent days, however, as a result of the national convention of the U.S. Republican Party in Cleveland.
In an interview with the New York Times the day after he had officially clinched the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump said he would be “absolutely” prepared to tell America’s allies, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself” unless they agree to shoulder most of the financial burden of U.S. troops.
As well as Japan, such a dramatic change of course on security policy would have major implications in South Korea — which lives in the constant shadow of an unpredictable and nuclear-armed North Korea — while Trump has also suggested that the entire NATO alliance could be revised.
Trump has stated that America’s allies should cover 100% of the cost of U.S. troops stationed on their territory and that he would not oppose Japan and South Korea developing their own nuclear weapons as part of their defense structures. Similar protectionist proclamations on trade, immigration and a host of other policies are causing consternation in Tokyo.
Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said in a press conference in July 20, “Whoever the next president may be, the Japan-U.S. alliance will remain a pillar of Japan’s foreign policy. There will be no change in our stance of cooperating closely with the United States.”
The Japanese government has been in contact with Trump’s political advisers through the Japanese embassy in Washington, as well as reaching out to lobbyists and foreign policy experts with ties to the Republican Party.
The aim is to ensure that Japan retains the status of a most-favored nation, and there has reportedly been positive feedback from the Trump camp. From monitoring Trump’s flip-flopping on policies, however, there is also a growing recognition that he can be volatile in his decision-making and pronouncements. Mbj