In response to eyebrow-raising positions recently espoused by Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reaffirmed Monday that Japan’s three nonnuclear principles and the Japan-U.S. alliance remain the cornerstone of its diplomacy.
Trump, the front-runner in the turbulent U.S. election, is threatening to withdraw U.S. troops from Japan and said he is open to Japan developing its own atomic arsenal.
“Whoever becomes president of the United States, the Japan-U.S. alliance, based on the bilateral security agreement, will remain the core of Japan’s diplomacy,” Suga told reporters. “We will maintain the three nonnuclear principles that prohibit Japan from owning, developing and transporting a nuclear arsenal.”
Suga also emphasized that the government will not react to every comment made by a U.S. candidate who has not been nominated.
Suga’s comments came after The New York Times on Saturday reported on Trump’s “America First” policy, under which the U.S. would not maintain military bases abroad unless allies like Japan or South Korea pay more to retain them.
The real estate mogul also said Japan and South Korea would be “better off” with their own nuclear weapons, as it would reduce pressure on Washington to defend them against North Korea and China.
Trump has taken the rare step of bringing up the Japan-U.S. alliance during the campaign. Most candidates have focused on domestic issues so far, such as jobs and the economy.
Critics call Trump’s views of Japan outdated and say he is intentionally adding Tokyo and Seoul to his list of targets because it resonates with his base — people who readily buy into his aggressive and provocative rhetoric and know little about international relations.
Yet, the government’s reaction to Trump’s hard-line stance is mixed. Some officials expressed reservation about his run for the presidency, given his threats to renegotiate the 56-year old bilateral security pact, however unrealistic it may sound. Yet conservatives such as former Osaka Mayor and Gov. Toru Hashimoto said last week on Twitter that Trump would be a good option for those opposed to U.S. military bases in Okinawa.
Japan experts say the world view espoused by Trump, who boasted that his top adviser is himself, is unrealistic and would harm U.S. interests. Many say the resulting vacuum caused by U.S. forces leaving the region would only invite China to become more assertive.
Although China is conducting large land reclamation projects in the South China Sea, experts say the presence of the U.S. military has kept it in check to some extent.
“China would do whatever it wants,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, policy research director at the Tokyo Foundation, a policy think tank. “Even if the U.S. wanted to return to the region, it would be very expensive.”
As for Trump’s remark about Japan becoming a nuclear power, Watanabe said South Korea would follow suit if Japan developed a nuclear arsenal, further destabilizing the region’s balance of power. That would not be a positive outcome for the U.S., which is benefiting from investing in Asia, Watanabe said.
Despite Trump’s assertion that the U.S. is being taken for a ride by allies that huddle under Washington’s nuclear umbrella, Japan has been paying host nation support to the U.S. military since 1978. The financial package covers expenses such as utilities and housing.
In January, the government agreed to allocate about ¥950 billion in host nation support, the most paid by all U.S. allies, over the next five years.
Masaru Nishikawa, associate professor of American politics at Tokyo-based Tsuda College, said the public and media should not be swayed by Trump’s remarks, because the billionaire does not seem to understand the U.S.-Japan alliance and changes his positions regularly.
“It is unclear if he can or would do what he says, even if he does get elected. He seems willing to say anything to win the primaries,” he said.