Trump Wants Japan On The Front Lines Against China

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

President-elect Donald Trump may attempt to turn Japan into a frontline ally against rising China, according to Trump’s security adviser.

Trump expects Japan “to play a more active role in Asia,” Trump’s security adviser told Reuters reporters. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is “a uniquely placed figure to offer leadership in the alliance,” he added.

On the campaign trail, Trump referred to Japan as an American trade rival and a free rider when it comes to defense. His comments alarmed Japanese policymakers and sparked concerns that the next administration will critically weaken the U.S.-Japanese security alliance at a crucial time. China is flexing its muscles and North Korea is becoming increasingly belligerent.

“We should be aware that the U.S. will pay less attention to Asia,” the Nikkei Shimbun explained Thursday, “During the transitional period, China could make a new move in the South or East China Sea. The Japanese government needs to be ready for such a situation.”

“It’s not quite healthy to draw any conclusion from what he has said,” Yoshiki Mine, a former Japanese Foreign Ministry official, told The New York Times. “We have to wait to see whether he is flexible.”

The comments from Trump’s security adviser suggest that the president-elect has changed his tune on Japan and the alliance.

Were the U.S. to offer greater support to Japan as a buffer against China’s growing military, it would help push forward Abe’s hawkish ambitions for greater military freedom. Under the Obama administration, Japan began a process of robust military rearmament. Under the next administration, Japan may expand its operations, possibly to include greater involvement overseas.

Several controversial amendments to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution went into effect in March, allowing Japan to deploy troops abroad to defend an ally and expand the operational scope of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Abe is pushing for additional revisions that would permit unrestricted deployment of Japan’s military forces abroad.

Trump will reportedly begin strengthening the military by ending defense spending cuts within his first 100 days in office. During his campaign, Trump said that he will build 350 new warships for the Navy, which could be deployed to Asia as a statement on America’s commitment to the region.

It would “send a message to Beijing as well as allies Japan and South Korea and other nations that the U.S. is intent on being in (Asia) for a long time,” Trump’s security adviser revealed.

The president elect is scheduled to meet with Abe next week in New York before the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. During the meeting, Trump will attempt to clear up any “unfounded” concerns the prime minister may have about his commitment to the alliance.

When Abe called Thursday to arrange the meeting, he told Trump “a strong Japanese-U.S. alliance is an indispensable presence that supports peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

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