Monday, November 16, 2020

US Presidential Election and Japanese Foreign Policy

Every time when the presidential election in the United States, Japanese people from experts to the general public, argue which candidate is better for Japan. Furthermore, some of them insist that Japan shove other American allies worldwide, including European nations, aside to draw Washington’s attention to her vital security interests. However, it does not seem that Japan is good at the zero sum styled rivalries among nations on the global stage. In the prewar era, Japan’s position in the world was stable when she supported Pax Britannica through the alliance with Britain, but she failed in pursuing her own national interests through “sovereign and independent” zero sum diplomacy after repealing the alliance. In the postwar era, Japan upheld the Yoshida doctrine, and tried to pursue mutual economic development and friendship, under the umbrella of Pax Americana. Considering such historical background, it is more suitable for Japan to pursue her own prosperity and stability based on universal principles, rather than winning through state-to-state rivalries.

Among the Japanese, notably the right wing, a substantial number of people argue that they prefer the Trump administration be continued for their ”hardline” approaches against China, even though it makes the relationship between the United States and other allies worse furthermore. However, contrary to their “wishes”, some Japanese intellectuals point out that China actually sees the current administration preferable. Those arguments are founded on fundamental problems of Trump diplomacy. Professor Emeritus Homare Endo of Tsukuba University comments that the emergence of the Trump administration has eroded the credibility of American democracy, which has made the position of the Xi Jinping administration in domestic and foreign policy very advantageous. That is to say, in the Sino-American ideological warfare that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched boastfully in his speech at the Nixon Library, American superiority has been eroded. Professor Endo argues furthermore, that thanks to America’s withdrawal from international agreements one after another, China has more opportunities to expand her influence in the world (“China wishes reelection of Trump”; News Week Japan; October 24, 2020).

With basic understandings of international politics, anyone can agree to the points that she raises. As if in support of her arguments, Marc Champion of Bloomberg News comments about his analysis that along with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the following dictators would face difficulties, if Trump were defeated in the election: President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Supreme Leader Kim Jongun of North Korea, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oh Saudi Arabia, President Recep Erdoğanof Turkey, and so forth (”Defeat for Trump Would Mean Some Other World Leaders Also Lose Out”; Bloomberg News; October 20, 2020).

Meanwhile, there is a concern that Democrat Biden would be softliner against China, which is more widespread among Japanese conservatives, rather than in the United States. However, Akira Saito, Former Chief of the US Bureau of Yomiuri Shimbun, comments that China is critically alert that ex-Vice President Joseph Biden would be more hardliner over human rights and climate change, and more adept at mobilizing allies to encircle them. In addition, China hawks such as former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy and Senator Tammy Duckworth are top candidates for Biden’s Secretary of Defense (“China is alert to Biden’s foreign and national security policy”; Wedge; October 26, 2020). It is not appropriate to foresee that America’s China policy would turn soft when the Biden administration inaugurates, at least. We should remember that even the Obama administration modified their China policy from the initial G2 approach.

Anyway, Japanese right wingers support current President Donald Trump so passionately, but they are just “anti-Chinese” while hardly sharing common values with American conservatives. Moreover, they are statists and historical revisionists. On the other hand, Red State voters shun governmental intervention, and believe in the “justice of America” in World War II unrepentantly. The only thing that both of them share in common is hatred against China. It is hard to imagine solidarity between them, in view of such a stark gap of values of both. Furthermore, those chauvinists are inherently anti-Ameircan.

The most noticeable failure of Japan’s pro-Trump and zero sum oriented diplomacy is the case of Russia. The Trump administration does not protest the repression of opposition politicians and Journalists by the Kremlin, and also, connived their annexation of Crimea. Among Japanese politicians, there was a growing voice that such an easing of tensions between Russia and the United States would be a boon for the negotiation of the return of the Northern Territories. Nevertheless, no matter how “pro-Russian” Trump is, just a mere personal relation between leaders cannot move interstate relations. As Shigeki Hakamada, Councilor of the Japan Forum on International Relations, comments, Putin rejected Abe’s request because the return of the Northern Territories to Japan as an American ally would put Russian national security in danger. This is Japan’s failure to take benefits without giving consideration to drawbacks of appeasement by zero-sum diplomacy, as if assuming the confrontation of Russia and the West in Europe were none of her concern. This attitude reminds me of prewar Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma, who remarked “The situation in Europe is complicated and mysterious”.

As I mentioned above, Japan is not good at zero sum diplomacy, and continual rule of the Trump administration would put her at a disadvantage in the negotiation of burden sharing in defense. Above all, they pull out US troops from Germany unilaterally, without consulting with the Department of Defense, the EUCOM, and NATO allies. Also, it is not just the US presidential election this year that when Japanese people talk about foreign relations with the United States and the rest of the world, they are liable to expect too much on “politicians with deep contact with Japan” of the counterpart. The most notable example, that such an expectation is betrayed, is Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross of the current administration of the USA, as he is just a sycophant of President Trump. It is not a good idea to snatch something for Japanese national interest so selfishly through zero sum deals. Rather, it would be preferable for Japan to review the ideal and the nature of the regime, and then, to make a decision about her direction of actions through checking whether they are compatible with universal global public interest. Regarding the relationship with Russia that I mentioned previously, America and Europe make their policy through examining the nature of the Putin administration, while the Abe administration made a mistake without giving consideration to the nature of the counterpart regime. We should remember this.