A panel with Professor Koji Murata of Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan, explored the Japan-U.S. alliance in the light of current American public opinion, especially with some of the changed policies of the Trump administration. On March 2, the professor was joined by Senior Researcher Dina Smeltz of the Chicago Council on Global Affair in a panel on the Japan-U.S. Alliance and the 2020 election. Also participating as discussants were: Ambassador Christopher Hill, professor of diplomacy, and Professor Suisheng (Sam) Zhao, director of Korbel’s China Center. I moderated the panel. Dean Fritz Mayer did the welcome.
Japan-U.S. Alliance and the 2020 Election
Panel Discussion, March 2, 2020
Professor Koji Murata, Researcher Dina Smeltz, Professor Suisheng Zhao, Ambassador Christopher Hill, Dean Fritz Mayer (welcome), Professor Floyd Ciruli (moderator)
Professor Ciruli: This panel is to continue the dialogue to underscore the Japan-U.S. benefits to both parties and the relationship’s challenges and strengths.
Professor Murata: The current U.S.-Japan alliance is very strong and stable and the relationship between Abe and Trump is sound. Abe is among the very few friends of Trump on the international stage.
There are some challenges. Last year at the G20 Summit, Trump said the U.S.-Japan alliance is unfair, claiming if Japan is attacked, the U.S. would have to protect Japan, but not vice versa; “they would just watch it on Sony TVs.” Of those who would attack the U.S. – North Korea, Russian or China – the first targets would be the U.S. bases in Japan, so we wouldn’t be watching it on TV.
The U.S.-Japan alliance is asymmetrical. If Japan is attacked, young people might die defending Japan, but Japan has provided the location of U.S. bases for more than 70 years, resulting in incidences of crime, pollution, etc., so Japan incurs ongoing impact as well.
Japan and the U.S. can do more than just maintain a military alliance – in science, cyber security, etc., they should cooperate. For example, in cyber security, more Pacific countries should be involved. Japan is involved in capacity building in this area. On the pandemic and other issues, we need global cooperation. Japan is trying to help China with the coronavirus, but Chinese ships still violate Japanese waters. These behaviors damage our mutual understanding.
The biggest challenge for the alliance is China. The U.S. has strategically located bases in the area. Some Chinese people claim that the coronavirus was spread by people from the U.S. Around 2025, Chinese GDP will exceed U.S. GDP. But also at this time, India’s GDP will surpass China’s GDP. By 2025, Chinese will lose a large part of its working population. Its population is shrinking.
Now everyone in Japan is talking about the U.S. presidential election. The coronavirus is causing postponement of Xi’s visit to Japan. Abe already has his pick for the next prime minister. Japan’s general election will follow the Tokyo Olympics. All these external issues are affecting Abe’s calculation for Japan’s next election.
Researcher Smeltz: The Chicago Council Survey started in 1974 when Dr. Henry Kissinger obtained funding from the Ford Foundation. The 2019 survey was conducted last June with 2,000 people nationwide. The context was a view that America was retreating from foreign policy and the international stage.
What we found is that Americans have always supported (7 in 10 now – one of the highest levels) taking an active part in world affairs, such as engaging in trade, providing humanitarian aid, etc. These policies are the bedrock of American policy and have been since WWII.
Our Asian and European allies have borne the brunt of criticism from President Trump. Yet, the public believes these alliances are beneficial to U.S. Regarding Europe, across the board people want to maintain our alliances or even increase them. Regarding trade deals, 63 percent say both sides benefit from trade deals. Trade and the positives trade brings receive some of the highest support we’ve seen no matter the political party of the respondent.
Japan scores the highest in strengthening U.S. national security. Japan also is seen as a partner and ally, but with less influence than other countries. Americans have always supported bases in Japan and that support is especially high now. One reason for this could be the number of active duty military there. The majority of the public – the highest numbers in recent years –supports defending Japan from North Korea. Support is lower regarding China, especially over disputed islands. People have started paying more attention to these issues with the advent of Trump and his tweets.
Americans are tempered as to whether China is a threat – yes, it’s an economic threat, but not militarily. As to the graying of China, the sale of adult diapers exceeds baby diapers.
The rise of China has solidified the alliance with Japan and South Korea. Most Americans see that as important, while believing America should engage China rather than contain it. Tensions with China aren’t as evidenced among the general public as in elite dialogues.
Questions from Ambassador Hill and Professor Zhao
Ambassador Hill: I found the survey results reassuring. One of his great headaches as the Asst. Sec. of Asia was dealing with the issue of bases. It wasn’t just the occasional “incidents.” How do Japanese feel in the long run about American bases and, in particular (and this has come up in South Korea about paying the U.S.), what if there were no U.S. troops in Korea? Would Japan be okay being the only Asian country housing U.S. troops?
Also, regarding the constitution that MacArthur put together limiting Japanese defense spending to 1 percent of GDP: PM Abe has considered changing that, but it had little political support. Where does that stand?
And, you talked about the Chinese population: Can you talk about the Japanese population of 126 million?
Also – How is Abe doing in his current term in office?
Professor Zhao: Regarding the U.S.-Japan alliance, what is the more difficult aspect with Trump? What is the significance of the U.S. economic relationship and how far can the TPP go without the U.S.? If the U.S. reconsidered TPP, what recommendations would you have?
Professor Murata: The U.S. presence in Korea and Japan are not separated. They are integrated. If Trump tried to withdraw from South Korea, certainly Japan would be strongly opposed. U.S. presence on the Korean peninsula is a single purpose – how to prevent an invasion. But the U.S. presence in Japan is much wider. In order to influence Trump [on withdrawal], Japan can improve its relationship with South Korean. When Japan normalized relations with South Korea, Japan was much richer (1965), now South Korea is catching up, but there is an attitude that Japan still looks down on South Korea. We also have to strengthen Japanese security.
In 30 years, Japan will lose 26 million in population. Our budgetary situation is getting more and more difficult. The population is aging. Even though Japanese population is decreasing, we can utilize new science and technology. AI is a vital science; we need to accumulate big data. China and Russia have a strong advantage in doing that over democracies. They don’t have to worry about privacy concerns.
Abe has changed. He is much less nationalistic and more pragmatic.
With regard to the TPP, I am not sure. Even among Democratic candidates, there is not much support for TPP. If we can modify the framework and save face within the U.S. government, U.S. involvement is more than welcome.
The Japanese defense budget – based on NATO calculations – should increase, but because of our population decrease, we have budget constraints.
Ambassador Hill and Professor Zhao: What do the Japanese think of Trump and the threat of North Korea? Would Japan like to be more involved in policy toward North Korea? Since Abe came to office, what has been the status of Article 9? Could it become a big issue again?
Professor Murata: Article 9 says Japan cannot conduct a war. Abe would like to revise Article 9 to allow self-defense forces. He would need two-thirds majorities in both houses, and I don’t think he can do it. He might want his successor to address this.
Japan is very concerned about North Korean developments. Last year, the U.S. finally abandoned the IMF treaty with Russia, so one possibility is U.S. deployment to perhaps Guam. Japan could join in that. It must be a deterrent to China, Russian and North Korea.