HONOLULU – Donald Trump’s stunning election win has made many in Japan, indeed the entire Asia-Pacific region, concerned about U.S. national policy on trade, security and the U.S. role in the region.
But the United States’ close ties with Japan have given Hawaii Gov. David Ige a measured view of the future under a Trump administration.
“As (Trump) settles into the job of president, and as he learns and understands more about (the) Asia-Pacific and the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship, I think you’ll see a change in his campaign promises to what actually gets implemented,” Ige said in an interview this week.
For Japan, a huge concern is President-elect Trump’s assertions that countries like Japan and South Korea should be fronting much more of the costs of U.S. forces stationed in their countries.
During the presidential campaign, Trump complained that Japan shoulders too little of the cost of stationing U.S. forces there, and said he would consider withdrawing those military forces. He even suggested the country could equip itself with nuclear arms for defense.
Ige, Hawaii’s governor since December 2014 and a third-generation Japanese-American, said that maintaining the U.S. military presence in Japan is largely about economic and political stability in the region. He believed that as Trump learns more about the situation in the Pacific region, he will “come to what is in the best interest not only of Japan, but what’s in the best interest of the United States.”
One of the major U.S. military plans currently underway in Japan, although heavily protested by many people of Okinawa, is the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab in Henoko in northern Okinawa Island. Under the plan, 2,700 U.S. Marines would be transferred to Hawaii, some going to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.
Ige said Hawaii is “working to prepare and facilitate the transfer of personnel from Okinawa to Hawaii.”
He added, “We want to make sure that the federal investment in Hawaii continues, so we have been working to prepare the facilities at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Station and other investments required to support additional troops.”
In Okinawa, where most U.S. military facilities in Japan are located, some local officials and residents are now watching for any sign that Trump’s victory could lead to a reduced military presence. For years, the prefecture has called on Tokyo and Washington to ease its burden of hosting U.S. military bases.
However, Ige said if Trump decided to remove all Marines from Okinawa, the investment and infrastructures needed to support the even larger number of troops “would be more than we would be able to accommodate at this time.”
For Hawaii, there is also concern that the president-elect’s negative comments on free trade agreements, imports of foreign goods, and the outsourcing of American jobs could result in policies that would negatively impact the economies of countries the state relies on for tourism.
But Ige said he does not think a policy change would severely impact Hawaii’s relationship with Japan specifically.
“Because of the Japanese investment in Hawaii, in the core infrastructure and businesses that are here, I really believe that the bonds are too close to really be impacted by action that the president might be able to take,” he said.
Ige said he hoped Trump administration policies would not closely mirror promises and sentiments expressed on the campaign trail because he believes Trump “will begin to recognize that campaigning is very different from governing.”
After such a contentious election season that saw some of the most divisive and heated rhetoric thrown around on the campaign trail, Ige said he believed Hawaii could be a model for the rest of the U.S. to follow.
“I do believe that Hawaii has really established itself as an example to the world of how people of different backgrounds and origins, religious beliefs, can really co-exist and thrive,” he said.
“In Hawaii, we like to talk about how we celebrate our diversity, and it really is a gift from the Native Hawaiian people, the spirit of Aloha. The belief that we want to be accepting of people that are different, and I think more importantly, that we want to respect their differences.”