July 21, 2020


Trump Has Damaged the U.S.-Japan-South Korea Alliance--And China Loves It: Donald Trump has accomplished in just three years an objective that Beijing has long pursued: reducing U.S. influence in the region by weakening the U.S.-Japan-South Korea partnership. (Gene Park Mieczysław Boduszynski, 7/20/20, National Interest)

[T]he American-led alliance system in Asia is not only about military power. Like NATO, it is also an alliance of values. Japan and the ROK are robust democracies with vibrant civil societies. The strength of the alliance lies not only in its ability to project military might but in its capacity to help advance a wide range of what should be shared objectives: supporting international rules to level the economic playing field, ensuring the free flow of information, fighting climate change, and safeguarding democracy at a time when illiberal ideologies and authoritarianism are ascendant.

Rather than bolstering these vital alliances, Trump has repeatedly worked to undermine them. In an approach that smacks of extortion, he has demanded exorbitant amounts for the U.S. base presence in the ROK and looks poised to continue a similar approach with Japan. He has ignored the fact that Japan and the ROK are net security exporters, contributing large sums of money to maintain U.S. forces on their territory and dispatching troops to U.S.-led and multilateral overseas operations. All the while, he has sought to cut a deal with North Korea dictator, Kim Jong-un, with little regard for Japan's and the ROK's interests, stoking fears that a possible deal might only cover U.S. concerns, such as limiting just missiles that could reach the United States. To top it off, Trump achieved a new diplomatic low with America's treaty allies: insulting ROK president Moon Jae-in and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe by mocking their accents at a fundraiser.

In the economic sphere, Trump has pushed protectionist policies that target exports from both Japan and the ROK, just as both countries seek to diversify their export markets and investments away from China. Even after negotiating new trade deals with both countries, he has left in place some of the unilaterally imposed tariffs and kept the threat of others on the table.

Trump has damaged the alliance system in Asia by undermining its foundation: trust. However dedicated both countries have been to the alliance, the president's words and actions can't help but cause them to wonder how much they can rely on Washington. The exorbitant demands on the ROK to cover hosting U.S. troops have triggered a popular backlash there. One former ROK foreign minister, who once led the ROK's efforts to denuclearize North Korea, suggested U.S. demands have made it time for the ROK to consider the development of a nuclear arsenal, a measure that could trigger proliferation in a region with other nuclear-aspirant states. In Japan, a country with a long history of favorable views of the United States, only 36 percent of Japanese citizens trust Trump. With the fear of U.S. abandonment high, the current Abe administration--at least publicly--has doubled down on the alliance. But look beneath the public posturing, and many officials and commentators are discussing the need for an "insurance policy."

Posted by at July 21, 2020 12:07 PM