Uncertainty in Japan as Trump Wins the White House


The stunning victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election sent shockwaves rippling through Japan. Many in the country are anxious over the strong protectionist overtones and divisive rhetoric in his campaign to “make America great again” and his repeated promise to rethink security agreements. Trump’s ascent to the White House has cast a pall on the course of Japan-US relations and there is real concern that the president-elect will make good on his proposals to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or force allies to carry the costs of US military bases within their borders.

Japan Inc. Wary

Japan’s economic leaders have watched with concern as Trump promised to throw up tariff barriers and reconsider trade pacts, including the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has made the TPP a cornerstone of his Abenomics growth policy, and the United States walking away from the agreement at this stage would likely have major economic repercussions for Japan.

In a press conference on November 9, Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Mimura Akio offered a reserved assessment of Trump, saying, “A shift toward protectionism and away from globalization presents a real risk to the health of the world economy. I hope the US president-elect understands that the TPP will fail without the support of both of our countries and will make the sensible choice of joining Japan in ratifying the treaty.” Keidanren head Sakakibara Sadayuki was more critical of Trump, calling on him to promote “pragmatic economic policies.” He struck a stern tone when calling into question Trump’s economic leadership, saying, “I wonder if he fully understands how the United States profits from being an active member of the global economy.”

The Nikkei in an editorial the day after the election blasted Trump’s economic platform, pointing out that “raising tariffs and other protectionist policies will merely make the American people worse off. Instead, measures must look how to best support those who have lost manufacturing jobs to technological advances and globalization.” The Yomiuri Shimbun took a reproachful tone, saying, “Trump’s campaign pledges to create employment and grow the economy are based on wishful thinking. The reality is the Unites States will only succeed in eroding its own economy and prestige by renouncing the TPP and renegotiating NAFTA.”

Rebuilding the Alliance

Abe was quick to congratulate Trump on his victory and expressed his readiness to join hands with the president-elect to address a broad number of issues facing the world. Trump in his campaign had few words of praise for America’s relationship with Japan. The prime minister made certain to emphasize the firmness of the Japan-US alliance in his speech, saying that by working together the two nations stood as an “alliance of hope” for the international community.

Trump’s victory came as a complete shock to Japan's Foreign and Self-Defense Ministries, who had bet on Hillary Clinton winning the White House and continuing America’s rebalance toward Asia started under President Barrack Obama. According to Japanese media reports many in the government have expressed concern whether the close cooperation between the two nations to counter Chinese actions in the East and South China Seas and to check North Korea's ongoing nuclear weapons program will stay on course under the new administration.

Trump comes to the US presidency with no political experience and many in Japan are concerned that his lack of connections with leaders in the country will adversely affect bilateral relations. Abe will make a brief US stop on November 17 to meet with Trump in New York before heading to Peru for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. The rushed timing of the meeting is indicative of Japan's eagerness to have Trump reaffirm the strength of Japan-US relations.

The Nikkei editorial touched on the president-elect’s claim that the United States bears an unfair financial burden for oversea bases, pointing out that Japan’s reliance on the US military under the security agreements means it will have to agree to pay more to keep American troops in the country. It went on to stress that Japan must “focus the new US administration’s attention on Asia by bringing it to the negotiating table as quickly as possible.” On the Japan-US alliance the Yomiuri editorial recommended Japan “carefully evaluate the core policies of the new administration in charting a new course for the alliance.”

An Age of Eroded Cooperation?

The America-first tone Trump championed throughout his campaign has raised concern over the fate of global initiatives to address such pressing issues as climate change, refugees, and poverty. There is real fear that if the United States steps back from its leadership role to direct its attention to domestic affairs, then other countries will follow.

A Mainichi Shimbun editorial stressed that the United States did not climb to its position of dominance on its own, emphasizing that “Trump is sorely mistaken in his supposition that America will continue to stand as a great nation if it recklessly turns its back on its closest allies and forgoes vital global agreements.” The Asahi Shimbun called on Trump to consider that “the cooperation of the United States with its global partners is vital to the prosperity of the entire world. We hope that Trump will quickly come to understand this, and that his administration will tap into the full potential of America’s most experienced and discerning diplomats.”

(Originally written in Japanese by Ishii Masato of Nippon.com and published on November 10, 2016. Banner photo: On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, a man in Tokyo delivers extra edition newspapers that report the victory of Republican Donald Trump in the US presidential election. Trump will be sworn in as the forty-fifth US president in January, replacing President Barack Obama. © Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO.)

United States national security Donald Trump Japan-US ties