Trump’s ‘America First’ causes concern about U.S. commitment to defense of Japan

Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election in November, the alliance with Washington will remain the linchpin of Japan's diplomacy, say Japanese officials. But with his campaign slogan "America First," a victory by Republican Party nominee Donald Trump may crate sources of concern about the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan.

As Trump criticizes the Japan-U.S. security treaty for being "one-sided," foreign policy advisers to the GOP presidential candidate have indicated a Trump administration would re-evaluate it and negotiate for an increased share by Japan of the costs for its defense by U.S. forces.

"Just like our defense alliances, trade deals need to be re-evaluated so that they actually make sense for both parties," said Joseph Schmitz, a foreign policy and national security adviser to Trump. "Sometimes deals over time change based on circumstances that weren't anticipated by the parties."

Schmitz was referring to the need to review alliances and free trade agreements involving the United States as he spoke to journalists on the sidelines of the four-day Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, that ended Thursday.

Citing Trump's threat to withdraw U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea and his controversial remarks to allow them instead to go nuclear for self-defense, Walid Phares, another foreign policy adviser to Trump, said separately that the White House hopeful's intention is to "negotiate" with the two Asian allies for a substantial increase in their contributions to the costs for defense by the U.S. military.

"The goal is not to pull these forces out. The goal is to negotiate," Phares said in an interview last month in Washington.

"He is not going to initiate a pressure out of the blue on Japan and South Korea and tell them to go nuclear," Phares said. "That is not his intention."

Compared to Trump's policy toward the two countries, Democratic Party nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, his likely opponent, is expected to maintain the current arrangements undertaken by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The key to understand Trump's external policy is that he advocates "America First," or putting Americans' interests first. His aides, however, deny that the policy is tantamount to isolationism.

According to Schmitz, it means the United States will have "an intelligent foreign policy that focuses first of all on making sure that America is a strong country economically and militarily."

"We haven't seen an American president recently that has an America First, and it doesn't mean a rejection of our alliances and trade agreements," he said. "Quite the contrary, it means we want to strengthen those alliances and strengthen those trade agreements."

Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the specific policy agenda of U.S. presidential candidates, and only said, "No matter who becomes the (next) U.S. president, the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy."

Japan "will maintain its policy of closely cooperating with the United States for the sake of the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and the world," Suga, the chief Cabinet secretary, said at a news conference Wednesday in Tokyo.

Schmitz, a former inspector general of the U.S. Defense Department, said Trump will be "honest and fair" with U.S. allies and "honest and tough" to enemies, suggesting that a Trump administration will employ a hard-line stance toward China.

Asked if he thinks Beijing is an enemy to Washington, Schmitz did not answer in a straightforward way, but said, "I think when you see what's happening in the South China Sea, you might understand that PRC (the People's Republic of China) is very different from Taiwan in terms of friendship with the U.S."

Underscoring the adviser's view, a 2016 Republican platform adopted in Cleveland condemns China's "preposterous claim" to almost the entire South China Sea and Beijing's island construction and militarization of outposts in the disputed waters in an apparent attempt to press its claims there.

The platform attacks the Obama administration's "complacency" toward Beijing, saying it "has emboldened the Chinese government and military to issue threats of intimidation throughout the South China Sea," in which the country is locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and other smaller neighbors.

Like the United States, Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea, but it does not recognize China's attempts to alter the status quo through unilateral actions, not least because Tokyo is embroiled in a row with Beijing over a group of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea.

However, China refuses to comply with an international tribunal ruling that dismissed its unilateral claims in most of the South China Sea.

The GOP also criticized China's currency intervention and its support of heavy industries such as steel and aluminum. "We cannot allow China to continue its currency manipulation, exclusion of U.S. products from government purchases, and subsidization of Chinese companies to thwart American imports," the platform says.

"It's important to understand that you can't just close your eyes and pretend they're not out there," Schmitz said. "You have to understand who your enemies are."

Source: Japan Today