The strategic partnership between the US and Japan is a time-tested pillar of the post-World War II international order, and the US is obligated by a mutual defense treaty to ensure its Asian ally’s security, no matter what happens. To this end, nearly 50,000 US troops are stationed in the country, although many of them are concentrated in Okinawa, a prefecture of Japan which had been controlled by the US directly until the 1970's. Their presence so close to the Korean Peninsula and China have served as a powerful reminder of the Pentagon's continued presence in the region; advocates laud the bases as an unshakable “deterrent” while critics lambaste them as being overly provocative. In the contemporary international climate, marked by saber-rattling with North Korea and a deterioration of trust between the US and China, these Japanese-based American troops have taken on a more important significance than ever before.
Nevertheless, American-Japanese relations aren’t defined solely by the military partnership, as economic ties are just as important, if not more. Japan is one of the largest economies in the world, and it achieved its current success partly due to American support, investment, and trade. The two economies are essentially intertwined to a very large degree, which is why both sides used to be so enthusiastic about concluding the TPP deal. Although Trump recognizes this determinant, all of his policies are founded on the principle of “America First,” and since he believes that the deal would have been a horrible one for American workers and domestic businesses, he canned the proposal and promptly withdrew from it after his inauguration.
This doesn’t signify that the US is abandoning Japan as a trade partner, but just that it’s interested in redefining the future economic relationship in order to make it more equitable, which is another principle of Trump’s foreign policy. This extends to the earlier-mentioned military factor as well, since the President spoke on the campaign trail about making America's allies pay more for their defense. Whether or not he pursues that promise is another matter, but it’s sure to be discussed during their upcoming meeting.
Andrew is joined by Shihoko Goto, Senior Associate for Northeast Asia, Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Narendra Bhandari, Professor of Management at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business in New York and author of “Trade Equilibrium: A Multi-Generational Economic Policy.”
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