The Yomiuri ShimbunU.S. President Donald Trump has completed his first Asian tour since being inaugurated. With the Asia-Pacific region facing problems, including the threat of North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile development and the conflict between China and its neighbors as China’s economic and military strength fuels increased maritime expansion, what was the outcome of Trump’s “America First” diplomacy? What are its future tasks? We asked experts for their thoughts.
Time to assess North Korea sanctions
President of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
Trump safely passed the diplomacy test. He was able to maintain the deterrence power against North Korea and to deliver the message of reinforcing sanctions. On this point, he received a degree of commitment even from slightly worried South Korean President Moon Jae In and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was also significant that Southeast Asian countries have expressed the idea of implementing economic sanctions against North Korea.
Now is the time to assess the effect of sanctions. We can see North Korea’s attitude and decide whether to hold talks with them. If it continues its nuclear and missile development, there is no point in talking.
The United States has adopted an offensive military stance to ensure that deterrence is effective. The question is whether the United States will start a preemptive war to destroy nuclear and missile facilities even if there is no indication of a nuclear attack by North Korea. That would violate international law and is difficult to imagine, since it is unknown whether a North Korean counterattack could be 100 percent contained.
The United States would lose authority in the event of massive casualties among the South Korean people and American citizens in South Korea.
However, I think there is little possibility of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons and missiles due to strengthened sanctions. Solving the issue in one or two years is unrealistic. It may take five, 10 or 20 years. Even if North Korea threatens Japan or South Korea with nuclear weapons, we don’t have to submit to it.
Nevertheless, there are concerns of an outbreak caused by a miscalculation or mistake, so it is important for Japan to develop ballistic missile defenses.
Japan and the United States agreed on a common diplomatic strategy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” I myself have insisted on the concept of emphasizing the Indo-Pacific region, so I think it’s fine.
However, it is a mistake to think of this as a strategy to create a network encircling China. The region is important because it is expected to see high growth in the future. I think China would find the strategy acceptable because it coincides with the “one road” element of its “One Belt, One Road” [initiative], which can be regarded as a maritime silk road for the 21st century.
The important point is to reduce the threat of war as much as possible in this region. A range of conflict zones exist in the northern inland area, and stable growth will not happen unless the threat of terrorism or civil war is reduced. In the South China Sea, where the Pacific and Indian oceans connect, we need to watch how China acts. It is imperative that it is not allowed to proceed with the construction of more bases.
Finally, a broad agreement by the 11 countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement showed Japanese diplomacy is a force to be reckoned with. I don’t think the United States will return to the TPP under the Trump administration, but mainstream U.S. experts in international relations and economics want their country to understand the disadvantages of not joining the multilateral agreement. Though unusual in terms of Japan’s diplomacy, the country must steadily build a framework without the United States, while being willing to welcome the United States if it returns.
Tanaka is an expert in international politics. He served as a professor at the University of Tokyo, vice president of the university, and president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency before assuming his current position in April. His major publications include “Word Politics” and “The Post-Crisis World.” He is 63.
(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Haruki Sasamori.)
Japan, U.S. should align views on China
Former Japanese Ambassador to the United States
Trump’s Asia tour was a kind of debut performance, and he deployed his brand of omnidirectional foreign policy. Although he was absent from the East Asia Summit at the end of his itinerary, I think his emphasis was ultimately on bilateral meetings.
The tour was of major significance in terms of U.S. involvement in Asia. The United States’ two security priorities are Russia, which opposes it on the Ukraine issue, and the Middle East. I’d hesitate to say that Asia is an urgent issue. Because of this, it was important that the tour offered Trump and his aides the chance to feel for themselves the future importance of Asia.
In Japan, Trump first visited the U.S. Yokota Air Base.
He must have recognized the strong presence of the Japan-based U.S. military in East Asia and the firmness of the Japan-U.S. alliance. With North Korea’s nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles approaching actual deployment capability, it is obvious but also very significant that he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mutually recognized that the situation is approaching the stage where maximum pressure is required to really bring [development] to a halt.
For the United States, I think Japan plays a role similar to that of Britain in Europe, and China is like the former Soviet Union.
However, one aspect is different: While the Soviet Union prioritized the military, China is a major power both economically and militarily. It is not an easy opponent. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation to Trump to visit the Forbidden City was reminiscent of the behavior of an emperor. Trump may not agree with Xi’s values, but it is possible he was impressed by his style of governance.
Traveling through Japan, China and South Korea, Trump likely saw that the position of each country differs even on the single issue of North Korea, and that the issue is not easy to address. It is impossible to formulate and implement a plan to deal with the Korean Peninsula problem without considering China’s strategy.
In a press announcement after the U.S.-China summit, Xi said, “The Pacific is large enough to accommodate both the United States and China,” and raised the possibility of a “G-2 concept” that includes the United States and China. Although this was a natural statement for China to make, steadily implementing such a strategy would diminish the prestige of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region and also harm U.S. national interests.
It must be acknowledged that the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy is still short on specifics. I would like the United States to first review future changes in the military balance and trends in China before coming up with its Asia policy.
Japan should strengthen talks with the United States on China to develop a shared view on the country. Additionally, Japan must take the necessary steps to ensure the stability of the Asia-Pacific region and that the United States play its role properly.
To increase the deterrence power of the Japan-U.S. alliance, Japan must raise its defense budget that, in turn, requires open domestic discussions about such matters as constitutional amendments, the nuclear issue, energy and cyber issues.
Kato joined the Foreign Ministry in 1965. After working as director general of the Asian Affairs Bureau, senior deputy minister and other posts, he served as the ambassador to the United States from October 2001 to June 2008. After retirement, he served as a commissioner of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization. He is 76.
(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Tatsuya Fukumoto.)