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Japan Trumped: Good Corporate Citizens

Donald Trump (SNA)

SNA (Tokyo) — Less than a week before his inauguration as US president, the Japanese government, and especially the business community, are showing clear signs of panic about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “trustworthy man,” Donald Trump. All but disappeared is the early spin from the Abe administration about how the bilateral relationship is off to “the best of starts,” and now the comments reflect a mix of both nervousness and disapproval.

In fairness, Prime Minister Abe played his hand about as well as he could have. His notion that by establishing a close personal relationship with Trump he might moderate the president-elect’s behavior, and perhaps even lead him to agree with some of Japan’s policy priorities, was certainly worth a try. With some world leaders, that tactic can be useful.

But Donald J. Trump is no George W. Bush. The new US leader is not simply ignorant, cocky, and arrogant as Bush was in the early years of his administration, but rather he is a full-blown narcissist whose bottomless insecurities conspire to give him only a tenuous grip on reality. Trump is incapable of having normal relationships with any human being—only his immediate family coming close, since they may be, in his mind, something like extensions of himself.

Trump’s view of Japan consolidated in the 1980s and has not changed much at all in the intervening years. Asked about Russia at the end of his January 11 press confrontation, Trump stated:

We’re either going to get along or we’re not. I hope we get along. But if not, that’s possible too. But Russia and other countries, and other countries including China, which has taken total advantage of us economically, totally advantage of us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress, total. Russia, China, Japan, Mexico, all countries will respect us far more, far more than they do under past administrations.

The inclusion of Japan’s name among the nations that Trump believes have “taken total advantage” of the United States was a clear indication that Abe had simply gotten nowhere in terms of changing the president-elect’s mind through personal diplomacy. And this came less than a week after a notorious Trump tweet had already sent shock waves through the Japanese business world:

Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.

Prime Minister Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga remained circumspect in their public comments. They patiently tried to explain that Japanese investment and trade actually helps the US economy. In a Kyodo News interview published on January 11, Abe’s growing doubts shone through. He let slip a comment that the US-Japan Alliance would remain firm “based on the premise that both of us have a mutual understanding of the current security environment.” Security policy is not a subject about which Abe is ever accustomed to speaking publicly in a conditional sentence.

The number two man of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Toshihiro Nikai, was characteristically much more straight-talking than the team at Abe’s Kantei. Nikai pointed out that Trump’s behavior was not befitting the dignity of the leader of a great nation, and he was, in fact, “loud mouthed and hysterical.” Nikai went on to offer some unsolicited advice to the US president-elect: “Calm down a little and act like a gentleman!”

Japanese business leaders and regional leaders echoed the assertion of Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga that Trump’s criticism was both unfair and inaccurate—that they are, in fact, “good corporate citizens.”

In a way it is almost endearing: Japanese leaders sharpen their pencils, compile binders full of data, and set out to logically convince the incoming Trump administration, with their pocketbooks of facts and figures, that Trump is mistaken, and that Japan is not ripping off the United States nor poaching jobs from American workers.

They still can’t wrap their minds around the central, horrifying truth—that their indispensable ally is soon to be led by a madman.

Part 1: Hoping Against Hope
Part 2: A Trustworthy Man

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