Glen Fukushima: Trump and Japan

Glen Fukushima returned to his native California and visited Occidental College to deliver a lecture at the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs on October 24, 2017. Mr. Fukushima discussed the United States’ past relations with Japan under the Obama administration as well as the current relations with Japan under the Trump administration. 

Mr. Fukushima started by discussing US-Japan relations under the Obama administration. Obama held the belief that the US needed to put greater emphasis put on Asia. During Obama’s first administration, the Asia rebalance took place both economically and militarily, which included support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Other highlights of the Obama administration’s focus on Japan included Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the first time a sitting United States president had visited the site of the nuclear bomb attack during World War II, as well as Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor and Washington DC.

Mr. Fukushima offered insights into what we have seen and what to expect of US-Japan relations during the Trump administration. It appears that relations between the two leaders have been off on a good start. President Trump has claimed that he and Prime Minister Abe "have a very good bond. Very very good chemistry."

On a security front, Mr. Fukushima believes that the US-Japan relationship will stay similar to previous years. With the rising threat of North Korea, there is no reason why this stable military relationship will change. Economically, Trump believes that Japan is taking advantage of the United States, so Trump would like to change how the economies interact with one another. Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Japan-US growth employment initiative is supposed to encourage Japanese companies to invest in the United States. Certainly, Prime Minister Abe believes that this investment initiative will "satisfy the unequal state that the US feels."

While US-Japan relations appear to remain constant, there is still time for the two administrations to leave marks. For Trump, many senior positions have yet to be filled and thus it is difficult to predict what will occur between the two nations in the future. For Abe, he will be pushing for revisions to Japan’s constitution—one that was mainly written by the US—while also dealing with an aging economy, nuclear power issues, and continual threats from Japan’s neighbor to the north.

With all this instability, the foreseeable future of relations between the US and Japan is unclear. Mr. Fukushima highlighted an important point: Trump likes uncertainty and unreliability. The Japanese do not. This could be a potential reason for troubled relations in the future.

-Henry Butenschoen