The Trans-Pacific Partnership was bashed in the 2016 elections by both Democrats and Republicans.
It was portrayed in the campaign as another “bad” trade deal that would cost our country decent jobs and lower wages.
It was no surprise when President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP in his fourth day of office and suggested focusing on more bilateral trade agreements.
Whether or not Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to convince Trump in November to stay in the TPP during their first meeting, it is apparent he has changed his tune now.
Abe seemed optimistic about replacing the TPP with investments from Japan in America’s infrastructure, suggesting a railway that uses their high-speed technology and increased bilateral trade during a trip to the US.
Sounds too good to be true?
The Japanese government has already invested two million in a maglev line project that would connect Baltimore, Maryland to Washington and expects the forty-mile line to open in a decade at an estimated cost of ten billion, with them covering much of the cost.
Many young Americans may be unfamiliar with this meeting, but as our generation starts to shape the public opinion of the time, it is critical that attention is paid to East Asia, as well as other parts of the world.
A 2015 survey by Pew Research Center found that seventy-three percent of Americans had never heard of the Japanese Prime Minister, who has served since 2012.
I asked Dr. William Boettcher in the Political Science Department at North Carolina State University why our relationship to Japan should matter to the incoming generation.
“Japan is the chief U.S. ally in East Asia (with South Korea a close second) and is a key contributor to stability in this very important region,” Boettcher told me. “Japan hosts significant deployments of American troops and is also our fourth-largest trading partner.”
While future relations seem unclear and the two countries have had a rocky history, for the past seventy-some years the relationship has been deeply rooted in mutual trust.
This trust has its beginnings in the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, signed in 1960.
The treaty has been strengthened over time with the US Japan Economic Harmonization Initiative in November of 2010 and the release of the revised U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines in 2015.
According to the State Department, the latter allowed for expanded forms of security-oriented cooperation, which brings us to the uniqueness of our relationship with Japan.
Due to Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution, the county cannot enter into war and can only use their forces in matters of self-defense.
As Japan’s only treaty partner, we are committed to protecting it with the presence of our forces.
The 2016 Index of Military Strength stated that we currently maintain “38,000 military personnel and another 5,000 Department of Defense civilian employees in Japan under the rubric of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ).”
Japan offsets some of the cost by providing around two billion annually, but they have been pressured in recent years to provide more and increase their own military.
This was especially expressed by Trump during his campaign as he espoused that our allies must give a little more for relationships to continue.
Japan has loosened some of their restrictions on defense and arms sales in recent years, and they can do more.
The reason a strengthened relationship with the U.S. is so important: China and North Korea.
While President Obama practiced “strategic patience” with North Korea, the rogue regime practiced more missile tests and failed to return to any negotiations.
The long term goal of rejoining families and reinstituting democracy in the North will be a long way off if it is continued to be put on the back burner for issues in the Middle East (an important lesson for President Trump).
Both the United States and South Korea support the policy of reunification, but a policy of constructive engagement from the U.S. may prove to be more effective.
Japan’s formidable neighbor, China, has not been sanctioned for facilitating North Korean prohibited behavior and does not seem to share concern for the safety of our allies in East Asia.
To move toward the reunification of Korea, it stands to reason that our presence in East Asia should not be depleted, but enlarged.
How does this support President Trump’s claims that our allies need to do more?
Japan can do more and it appears that now that they have been pressured, Prime Minister Abe is rising to the occasion.
The first foreign leader to jump on a plane and meet with our new president, this is a man who is interested in not only dinner, but chocolate and roses too.
Japan has asserted its dominance in East Asia in recent years, meaning it has a dog in the fight.
In 2010 China challenged Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and the Obama Administration responded by saying that the islands were protected under the security treaty between the United States and Japan.
Then the Japanese central government furthered tensions with China by purchasing three new islands in 2012.
While we must uphold our end of the security treaty, in the coming years Japan must strengthen the Japanese Coast Guard, increase defense expenditures so as to strengthen the Self-Defense Forces, reinforce the National Security Council, and alter its interpretation of the right to collective self-defense.
The Economist maintains that some of the money to improve American infrastructure can come from Japan’s $1.2 trillion public-pension fund, the world’s largest, so perhaps this can also support their own needs to improve and expand defense.
We can increase our militaristic and economic ties with Japan as long as they are willing to do the same.
While in the past public opposition to altering the Japanese constitution would have made it difficult, the increasing buildup of the Chinese military and Japan’s desire to work with the U.S. has changed the public’s outlook.
These short-term changes are now possible to work toward our common long-term goals of standing up to North Korea and China.
It looks like this alliance might make for a sweet relationship after all.
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Cover Photo Credit: Metropolico.org/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)