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What Would A President Trump Mean for Japan?

The controversial presidential candidate hasn't held back in his criticism of Japan and its politics, but what would it really mean for the country if he were to be elected?

By 5 min read 11

Donald Trump. No current American political figure conjures up such polarized debate, and he’s become one of the most controversial presidential candidates in recent history. And one country that has been unable to avoid his gaze has been Japan. Trump has said a lot about this small island nation, but what would it all mean for the country if he were to get elected?

Re-arming Japan

Trump has openly lobbied the promotion of nuclear proliferation, in stark opposition to the United State’s nuclear nonproliferation foreign policy. Trump has also stated that, by extension, he would retract the American “nuclear umbrella” which protects Japan (through the use of American nuclear weapons) in the instance of an attack.

Well I think maybe it’s not so bad… if Japan had that nuclear threat.

Trump’s primary evidence for arming Japan is the growing threat of North Korea, steadily working its way to crashing through the doors of the nuclear club. This, for Japan, is a very valid fear. Removing the protection of the nuclear umbrella could force Japan down the road of internal nuclear development.

If Japan were to be given nuclear weapons or allowed to develop them, countries in the region such as China or North Korea might respond with accusations of encroaching U.S. influence. China, already a nuclear power, could see Japan obtaining or developing nuclear weapons as a direct threat to its own expansion. Although unlikely to cause a “shooting war,” this would surely deteriorate already poor relations. Meanwhile, North Korea could use the move as evidence for their own need to develop nuclear weapons.

Without the nuclear umbrella, Japan would be hard pressed to move forward without their own nuclear deterrent.

Footing the bill

Trump’s very first statement on Japan referred to the cost of keeping U.S. bases here.

Of course they [Japan] should pick up all the expense[s]. Why are we paying for this? … I want them to reimburse us.

To maintain the bases, America spends approximately US$5.5 billion. Although Japan increased its funding to record high numbers in 2016, its contribution falls significantly short at only $1.7 billion.

Trump’s mercantile approach to the cost of the American military in Japan could haphazardly push public opinion into rejecting new or current bases (on Okinawa alone, a recent survey revealed that 71 percent of local residents felt the bases weren’t necessary).

If Trump were to actively demand increased payments, Japan would be faced with a choice: agree to the demands or be faced with large gaps within its military as American troops are forced to leave.

If the latter was to happen, we’d see a new Japan emerge. With only one percent of the GDP currently dedicated to the military (approximately ¥4.98 trillion), increased tensions within the region and a gap needing to be filled with the evacuating American forces, Japan would be forced to reposition its own armed forces and increase its current military budget.

The Japanese Constitution

Underpinning Trump’s bombastic rhetoric is his position on the Japanese Constitution and their ability (or lack thereof) to go to war.

You know we have a treaty with Japan where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States… if we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything. They can sit at home and watch Sony televisions, O.K.?

The specific treaty that Trump is referring to is the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which declares that if any land under Japanese administration is attacked, America must come to the aid of Japan. However, Japan is under no legal mandate to support America if the situation were reversed.

Trump is also criticizing the Japanese Constitution, specifically Article 9 which states:

“…the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Abe has long since been a critic of this article of the constitution. In recent years, ignoring widespread protests, he has sought to dismantle Article 9 and change the Japanese Constitution, allowing the country to not only go to war through the right of self-determination but also to have an active military. A poll conducted in 2016 found that 49 percent of respondents didn’t want to see such changes to the constitution.

Nonetheless, there are still large portions of the population who want to see Article 9 rescinded. Many of the right wingers within Japan view Trump as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, who, if elected president, could provide Japan and Abe with the international legitimacy to finally dismantle Article 9.

Trump has also gone so far as to suggest he would be “…prepared to walk” if North Korea or another country were to attack Japan — effectively breaking the alliance the two countries have had since the 1960s. This would force Japan to, once again, adjust its military capabilities and potentially seek more regional allies, thereby establishing regional and local political blocs.

The fall of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The TPP is a trade deal which aims to combine the economies of the US, Japan and ten other countries. The loss of the TPP would have dire consequences for Abe who has recently poured significant political capital into sustaining and promoting the TPP in spite of fierce opposition from farmers and fishermen. As such, the next president could easily decide his fate as leader of Japan. Although unlikely to topple him from office, the end of the TPP could easily send shockwaves into the next election. Although Clinton has prevaricated her support for the TPP on several occasions, Trump has been outspoken since the very beginning, concluding that the the deal “…will send America’s remaining auto jobs to Japan.

In the end

For Abe and the conservatives looking to reinvent Japan, Trump could be considered somewhat of a blessing in disguise, enabling the country to not only garner international support for changes to the constitution but also facilitating backing at home for nuclear development, evacuating American military personnel and further measures to confront regional threats.

If American-Japanese relations are able to survive the changes Trump would cause, and the country’s population isn’t alienated from their own constitution and desires, it will be an uncertain and potentially life-changing path ahead for Japan and its people.

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  • Starbucks Coffee says:

    All Prime Minister Abe would have to say to President Trump is that he could no longer pay for US troops as it is not in the budget. Japan doesn’t have to ask to revise article 9 but simply wait for Trump to voluntarily remove this troops from Japan as a result of lack of payment. Japan will have a regular army again. To save money on salaries, the conscription of men to serve will automatically kick in after Article 9 is done away with with Trump’s blessing.

  • EnricoPallazzo says:

    HRC now con on TPP

    I’m worried about currency manipulation not being part of the agreement. We’ve lost American jobs to the manipulation that the countries, in particularly in Asia, have engaged in.
    – Hillary October 2015

    She went on to say that the TPP does not meet her standards

  • tedwardma says:

    is “prevaricate” the right word here?

    • Alex Sturmey says:

      Grammatically, I hope so. It came from rummaging through thesaurus.com/ Politically, sort of. Clinton, since taking fire from Trump on the issue of the TPP has certainly flip-flopped her previous, current and future support for the deal, and in a lot of the debates, certainly handles her actual flag waving of the reform in a very evasive manner.

  • I’m not American, but I’m very sure if Trump is elected President most of these won’t change significantly. He speaks much but does very little. He will spend his time tweeting insults in the Oval office.

    The next president, she, is the better of two and will most likely be the one the electoral college will choose. (Your founding fathers were geniuses).

    • Alex Sturmey says:

      There’s a fine line, with all politicians, that whether what they say will come true. If recent trends are anything to go by, you’re correct, a lot (not all) is just rhetoric. However, a lot of these demands are pretty simple, and easily within the realm of possibility for a new elected Trump who, for lack of a better word, is a bit of a loose cannon and potentially eager to make his mark on Asia and American foreign policy.

      That being said, it doesn’t take much to sway public opinion in Japan for a lot of these topics. For years now the bases have been a sore spot, and many have been eager to get rid of them. Now, with Trump as President, just the fact he is sitting inside the White House could allow Abe and the rest of the conservatives in Japan to begin moving towards removal. Although, as you’ve put, I do hope most of this is just angry tweets from the Oval office.

      • Modapu says:

        The bases with American military will stay in Japan, because the Chinese Communist Party is a 100 Pound Gorilla that has been provoking Japan, South Korea and other countries around the South (China) Sea.

        When Japan makes constitutional changes it will increase military spending and take-up more tasks, but it will still require backing of America and other allies to counter-weight China and Russia in East Asia.

        Japan should build military outposts on the Senkaku islands to thwart any claims by the CCP.

        The United Nations must be used to dismantle and remove China’s illegal bases in the South (China) Sea. The United Nation’s International Tribunal has ruled against Chinese claims to rights in the South China Sea, backing a case brought by the Philippines.

      • Jessica Melvin says:

        Boy were you wrong. If the voting system was based on popular vote she would have won and we also would have avoided the Bush years.

        • Alex Sturmey says:

          Out of curiosity, which part? The fact Trump one? To be fair, I was basing a lot of my opinions on the most recent opinion polls, and by all accounts, Clinton was set to win. And yeah, you’re correct, that’s just the inherent problem with the electoral college, in that it isn’t based on the popular vote – a president winning the popular vote, and losing the election has now happened four times.

          • Jessica Melvin says:

            I knew you werr basing off of a Clinton win so i was just being a butthead so to speak. I understand and respect the voting system but i think things should be vote for vote. I’m not willing to be fearful of Trump and I actually think he could do a good job. My only concern is relations with Asia. I think we are on thin ice as it is and his brazen attitude with foreign politics could break it.



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