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Managing Japan-U.S. ties in the Trump era

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Questions and criticisms have been raised as to the merits of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approach to the Trump administration. He will have the honor of being the first foreign leader to greet the newly enthroned Reiwa Era emperor. U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit will also include the presentation of an American made sumo trophy at the spring sumo tournament, and a likely tour and the accompanying photo opportunity on the newly refurbished Izumo aircraft carrier.

Critics argue that it is inappropriate to bestow these privileges on Trump considering the White House’s criticism against Japan, the mercurial behavior of the president himself and the instability he has inculcated into the alliance, the region and the world with his lighthearted and sometimes inflammatory tweets.

Still others assert that the U.S. initiated trade war with China and steel tariffs on Japan are further evidence that Trump has damaged Japan’s national interests, potentially sending the Japanese economy back into recession.

These criticisms are legitimate yet leave us with the following question: What are the alternatives for Japan as its closest partner is in the process of re-inventing itself under the leadership of the most unorthodox leader in U.S. history?

Under these challenging and consequential circumstances Japan must first focus on its national interests. Second, it must formulate a strategy to achieve these national interests. Third, it must successfully execute this strategy. Fourth, Japan must identify and seize opportunity in the current geopolitical turbulence.

At the first level, what is clear is that Japan under Abe has prioritized as its national interest the maintaining of the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of its security strategy. At the same time, Tokyo has doubled down on its long-term efforts to expand its strategic partnerships within the region and........

© The Japan Times