JAPAN SHOULD UTILIZE DONALD TRUMP’S CHINA POLICY
Marking the end of Donald Trump’s first year in office, the American media have been busy evaluating his performance to date as the 45th president of the US.
CNN stands out as one of the media outlets most blatantly critical of Trump. Even discounting its liberal bias, one cannot but get more than a little tired of its relentlessly critical reports about the president.
I find it interesting that in the US nowadays the word “liberal” has such a poor image that American left-wingers prefer to call themselves “progressives” instead.
It is intriguing to note that all American dailies right and left, ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times and Washington Post, are devoting considerable space to analysis of Trump’s personality and evaluation of his character. This obviously reflects the fact that his words and deeds are highly unpredictable.
The Wall Street Journal in its January 18, 2018 edition introduced insights from more than 50 people who have met the president in the Oval Office, on Air Force One, or at Mar-a-Lago in his first year (“Talking to Trump: A How-To Guide,” by Peter Nicholas and Rebecca Ballhaus). Below are some of their comments:
–“Be prepared for a change of topic (in the middle of his speech)…” especially if old enemies and old friends are present. “Trump reads his audience and responds to that,” says Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, noting that in an April meeting focused on bolstering business, Trump “repeatedly interrupted his speech…to call out executives in the audience”;
–“Expect him to be blunt…to the point of abruptness”;
–“He can be persuaded to change his mind…especially if it is tactfully done.” Defense Secretary James Mattis uses an approach that aides say can work: “He says (to Trump) ‘Your instincts are absolutely correct,’ and then gets him …to do the exact opposite of what his instincts say.’” ;
–“He can take frankness”;
–“Sometimes delaying works best…” To convince Mr. Trump to change course, White House aides sometimes stall, hoping he’ll forget what he wanted done and move on to something else;
–“He can be courteous with Republicans (and Democrats as well).” Trump last September arranged for a senior Republican congressman, who just returned to Washington after a near-fatal shooting, to sit in the chair in the Oval Office normally reserved for visiting heads of state;
–“He isn’t beyond using chocolate to win someone over.” Trump showed the kindness of his heart to another Republican representative, who he learned aboard Air Force One had three children, by handing him three Air Force One-branded boxes of M&Ms. “Give them to your kids and tell them they’re from me, Trump said; and,
–“Mr. Trump will point out arcane features during the rounds,” notes Mick Mulvaney, the
president’s budget director and frequent golf companion, such as “which trees have died and which trees need to be cut down and what greens are struggling with what fungus.”
China’s Predatory Economic Policy
Although it is questionable whether these insights are useful in understanding Trump’s unpredictable policies and strategies, one thing is quite clear: compared with his predecessors, he is highly unconventional.
I recall a useful piece of advice from my friend James Auer, emeritus professor and Director of the Center for US-Japan Studies and Cooperation at Vanderbilt University, who said: one should only pay attention to policies Trump actually implements, without being distracted by what he says or tweets.
In this vein, the National Security Strategy announced by Trump last December and the new National Defense Strategy that Defense Secretary James Mattis unveiled on January 19 are well-defined criteria upon which to judge America’s future moves.
The National Defense Strategy expounds the president’s National Security Strategy in terms of specific strategies in times of crisis, emphasizing at great length the threats from China and Russia, such as:
“China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors.”
“Predatory economics” is saying it precisely. Mattis resorted to forthright expressions well suited to allow the Trump administration to confront China and Russia. The Trump administration has thus drastically shifted the policies pursued by Bush and Obama, who defined terrorism as America’s greatest enemy.
Particularly concerned about China, the administration emphasizes the need to significantly reinforce its strike capability while warning that China is out to sabotage America’s economic and military supremacy on a global basis.
The word “lethal” appears frequently in the defense document Mattis just put his signature on. Viewing China standing in the shadow of North Korea—not international terrorist forces—as the real threat to America’s security, the Trump administration stresses the need to develop sufficient lethal capability against China. It is quite a difference from the Obama administration. This correct perception of reality pertaining to China and Russia on the part of the Trump administration is a welcome development for Japan.
I don’t think the American media alone are in the dark as to what Trump is up to next. Presumably, the same thing can be said about the Japanese media and scholars of American affairs, not to mention the Foreign Ministry.
A year into the new American administration, we actually have the two afore-mentioned documents right under our noses, specifying the formal policy and strategy of the administration. While these documents can hardly be expected to automatically make America stand on Japan’s side, it clearly demonstrates that a solid common base exists between the US and Japan in pursuing a strategy for dealing with China.
Sinister Intervention by Chinese Government
Equally important are the annual reports on China (161 pages) and Russia (59 pages) released about the same time by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
In these reports, the USTR blasts China and Russia for having “failed to embrace market-oriented economic policies championed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and …not living up to certain key commitments they made when they joined the WTO.” The USTR stresses that “the fundamental principles of the WTO” have been violated as a result, further noting:
“Today, almost two decades after it pledged to support the multilateral trading system of the WTO, the Chinese government pursues a wide array of continually evolving interventionist policies and practices aimed at limiting market access for imported goods and services and foreign manufacturers and service supplies. China’s regulatory authorities continue to require or pressure foreign companies to transfer technology (and intellectual property…) as a condition for securing investment or other approvals…China is determined to maintain the state’s leading role in the economy …while actively seeking to impede, disadvantage and harm their foreign counterparts, even though this approach is incompatible with the market-based approach expressly envisioned by WTO members…”
After harshly blasting China over its unfair practices, the USTR concludes that it was a mistake for the US to support China and Russia when they wanted to join the WTO.
These are the facts. There is nothing to refute the findings of the Department of Defense or the USTR. What is important for Japan under the circumstances is to share a common evaluation of China on the basis of the basic strategy the Trump administration implements, not what the president says or tweets. The specific question Japan must seriously grapple with at this juncture is whether or not it should cooperate with China’s “One Belt and One Road (OBOR)” initiative or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
There are some within the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party advocating Japan’s proactive cooperation with the OBOR initiative. But we must act extremely prudently here when the two superpowers are in conflict over diametrically conflicting systems and values. Under no circumstances, should Japan take any action that could end up facilitating China’s desire to build a world under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
Closely watching the actions of the Trump administration, Japan must make judgments and decisions that will support its own national interests. Trump’s crude words have unfortunately caused the world’s confidence in the US to wane, creating a vacuum in international politics. Under such circumstances, Japan should do its best to work closely with the US to fill this void as much as possible, using its own national values to play a leadership role.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 788 in the February 1, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)