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Japanese gov't wary of Trump administration's 'America First' stance

Uotsuri Island, part of the Senkaku Islands, is pictured in this file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft in September 2013. (Mainichi)

Japanese government officials are becoming increasingly wary of the impact on Tokyo's diplomatic and security policies of the "America First" policy, which President Donald Trump mentioned in his inauguration speech.

    President Trump stopped short of showing the full picture of his diplomatic and security policies in his inauguration address while saying that his government will urge U.S. allies to bear a greater burden, and how Washington will be involved in the situation of the Asia-Pacific region under the Trump administration remains uncertain.

    In his speech, Trump said, "For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military."

    Since Trump touched on his belief during his election campaign that U.S. allies should pay more of the cost of U.S forces stationed in their territories, the new administration is expected to demand Tokyo extend further financial contributions to the U.S. military.

    Japan currently shoulders over 70 percent of the cost of U.S. forces stationed in Japan, far larger than that paid by Germany and South Korea, which stand at about 30 to 40 percent each. Therefore, Japan takes the position that it does not need to pay any more of such costs.

    However, there is a possibility that the new U.S. administration will demand that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has underscored the importance of the bilateral alliance, expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in international security.

    "We must pay close attention to specifically what the United States will demand from Japan," said a high-ranking official of the Defense Ministry.

    Trump's remark on reinforcing "old alliances" and forming "new ones" has also created a stir. President Trump appears to have Russia in mind, with which he is seeking to improve U.S. relations. At the same time, however, the remark can be interpreted as meaning that the United States is prepared to join hands with any country it has confronted with in the past as long as it can make a deal with that country that can contribute to the "America First" policy. If so, it could threaten the country's traditional relations with its allies based on common values such as freedom and the rule of law.

    A senior official of the Foreign Ministry did not make a clear-cut comment on this point, but said, "We don't know what he meant by mentioning 'new' alliances, but it wasn't bad that he mentioned the importance of old ones."

    In his speech, Trump made no mention of his stance toward the Asia-Pacific region, to which Japanese government officials have paid close attention.

    Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson stated in his Senate confirmation hearing that the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, which are also claimed by China, fall under Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. It remains unclear, however, how far the United States will be involved in growing tensions between Japan and China over the islands, since the treaty could be invoked only if China were to invade the islets.

    Katsuyuki Kawai, a special adviser to the prime minister who had visited the United States to exchange views with an aide to Trump following the presidential election in November last year, said, "Japan will need to play a more important role in protecting peace and prosperity in the region."

    Meanwhile, those who are designated as top officials of the new U.S. administration have made hard-line comments on the situation of the South China Sea where China is increasing its presence.

    President Trump has indicated that Washington will review its "One China" policy in which Taiwan is regarded as part of China's territory. If the U.S.-China confrontation were to intensify, it could adversely affect the Abe government's aim to improve Tokyo's relations with Beijing on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations.

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