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Japanese Hawks Lifted by Donald Trump

By Nobuaki Masaki

SNA (Tokyo) — Donald Trump’s comments about the potential need for the United States to retract its responsibility to defend Japan may help conservative Japanese politicians bolster this East Asian nation’s military posture.

In a May 4 Republican Town Hall hosted by CNN, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, said that Tokyo should pay “all the expense” of the US military being deployed in bases across Japan, or else “they’re going to have to defend themselves.” Trump suggested that Japan could even arm itself with nuclear weapons in such an event.

On May 6, Regional Revitalization Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who was in Washington to speak at a symposium, responded to Trump’s comments, saying that the Republican candidate “should reread the US-Japan Security Treaty carefully.” He argued that the US-Japan security alliance was also in the interests of the United States because it contributes to the stability of the region. Ishiba also argued against nuclear armament, saying that this would weaken the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

However, Ishiba seems to agree with Trump in the sense that they both want to change the alliance in some way, stating that “the revision of the US-Japan Security Treaty is a subject that should be considered seriously to move the US-Japan alliance to a symmetrical relationship.”

Ishiba has long referred to the one-way commitment of the United States to potentially take military action on Japan’s behalf as “unsymmetrical.” Japan is obligated to the provision of US military bases on its territory. Ishiba wants to set “symmetrical” bilateral conditions in which the two sides can protect each other. In the symposium, he also acknowledged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to revise the Japanese Constitution to allow for a wider use of collective self-defense.

Prime Minister Abe’s opinions on this issue are clear. In his 2006 book, Toward A Beautiful Country, Abe wrote, “Article Nine of the Constitution caused Japan to lack the necessary conditions to be an independent country.”

Trump’s comments could potentially lead Japanese people to think that they cannot always count on the United States for their defense. This will strengthen the arguments of security policy focused politicians like Abe and Ishiba.

This situation hearkens back to the time in which Abe suggested during the Diet proceedings for the Legislation for Peace and Security that his proposals will gain public support in the future, referencing the US-Japan Security Treaty that his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, pushed through in 1960. Abe noted that this was also deeply unpopular at the time, but subsequently won public support.

Nobuaki Masaki is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency