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Japan’s message for Donald Trump: don’t cut a deal with China

Japan, a crucial ally for the United States in Asia, is conveying a careful message to potential presidential candidate Donald Trump. The primary concern revolves around urging caution in making deals with China that could disrupt collective efforts to manage Beijing’s influence and potentially jeopardize regional stability. With Trump gaining traction in polls, Japan has intensified efforts to engage with his close associates, notably ahead of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s upcoming state visit to the US in April, at the invitation of President Joe Biden.

The outreach initiatives involve dispatching senior ruling-party figures to meet with Trump and engaging Japanese diplomats with think tanks and former US officials aligned with the former president. Tokyo’s primary worry is that a potential return of Trump to power might lead to trade or security deals between the US and China, potentially undermining recent joint efforts by the Group of Seven (G7) nations to counter China’s growing influence.

While Japanese officials lack specific information about Trump’s plans, their concerns are rooted in his past actions and statements during his 2017-2021 term. Trump’s disregard for some multilateral cooperation, defense of relationships with authoritarian leaders like China’s Xi Jinping, and unsuccessful attempts at a nuclear deal with North Korea contribute to Japan’s apprehension. There is particular concern that Trump might weaken US support for Taiwan, potentially emboldening China in its territorial ambitions.

A Trump aide noted that there have been no recent meetings between Trump and Japanese officials. Nonetheless, Japan remains vigilant, especially regarding potential protectionist trade measures and demands for increased financial contributions towards hosting US forces in the country. The uncertainties surrounding Trump’s potential candidacy in the 2024 election keep Japan on alert for potential shifts in US foreign policy.

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