What a Trump Presidency Means for US-Japan-China Relations

What a Trump Presidency Means for US-Japan-China Relations

Two Chinese girls looking out at Tokyo with a faux statue of liberty. The US-China-Japan all in one photo.

It’s only been one day and we are already starting to see the damage.  The repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The disappearance of the Climate Change page on whitehouse.org.  Re-negotiations of NAFTA.  It’s all really happening.

Yesterday, in a truly humbling event, scores of Women’s Marches were held around the world. Women (and those who support women and diversity) stood in solidarity for equality, love, and women’s rights.  I was rooting for all of you.

Although these marches spanned the globe, they mostly represented a fight for U.S. domestic policies.  Planned Parenthood, immigration, education, healthcare–Americans turned out in record numbers to fight for these rights.

But I’m Here to Talk Foreign Policy

I’m currently taking a Failed States & Insurgencies class (I know, sounds uplifting right?).  The professor is young, but captivating and ridiculously intelligent.  He lived in Central Asia for years and actually worked with warlords in failed states formed from the ruins of the USSR.

“Climate change isn’t that big of a deal,” he announces to the class.  “Now wait, before you start throwing tomatoes at me I want to tell you the most pressing threat to humanity, something that is far more deadly than climate change–and that’s nuclear warfare.  One wrong move, one wrong word, one miscommunication and all of mankind is wiped out, save a few unlucky souls.  All your friends.  All your family.  Wiped from the face of this Earth.”

He pauses.

“So yes, international relations is important.  Sure, climate change is a big deal and I know we can deal with it when mankind is pressed with the urgency–but nuclear warfare?  That is a much more pressing and delicate subject.”

So while domestic policies worry me a lot, it’s the danger the Trump administration could inflict in the realm of foreign policy that keeps me awake at night.  Most voters go to the ballot with daily grievances in mind–I went in knowing that Trump could change the entire world order.

Security in Japan

During his campaign, Trump said the U.S. shouldn’t be the world’s police and we should withdraw and/or reduce U.S. military presence in Japan (even though Japan pays a hefty sum of money for our military to be there in the first place).

Can you imagine what would happen to Japan if the U.S. left, especially with a rising (and aggressive) China next door under the rule of President Xi Jin Ping?

That’s why Prime Minister Abe basically ran to Trump tower mere days after the election results.  Although Japan has recently built up its domestic military (aka self-defense force) under PM Abe, the country would be almost defenseless without U.S. assistance (and that’s because after WWII we did not allow them to have any form of military of self-defense).

After the Abe-Trump meeting, it seems that Trump will likely not go through with his campaign rhetoric in terms of military presence in Japan–much to Abe’s relief.

Security in China

I have one word to sum up all current security tensions with Trump & China:


China has one, and only one issue it is absolutely non-negotiable with, and that is territorial sovereignty–especially over Taiwan.

I read a 100 page security briefing on tensions between US-China from the 1980s to the early 2000s, and most conflicts arose from Taiwan.

Trump taking the phone call from pro-independence Taiwan President Tsai Ing Wen is a big deal.  It has elicited confrontational and disturbing comments from China.  If Trump changes his policy towards Taiwan, if he recognizes it as a sovereign nation, China is not afraid to strike.

China attacks Taiwan.  The U.S. comes to defend Taiwan.  Russia supports China in its claim for Taiwan.  Japan also comes into the fight.  Starts looking like a world war.

Even if it doesn’t begin with a full-frontal fight over Taiwan in the straits, one wrong move from increased naval ships from the U.S. or China in waters near Taiwan could easily escalate into unnecessary warfare.

The day after the election results I asked my professor what he thinks will happen between U.S.-China, especially with TPP gone and possible military pull out from the Asia Pacific, as stated in Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

“I don’t think the U.S. will pull out,” he cried. “Trump said he will double spending on the military budget.  One day after the election and defense contractors had a spike in their stock.  He’s obviously going to beef up the military–but why?  Perhaps an attack against China?”

I’m extremely skeptical that the U.S. will attack China and I would rather bet my money on a conflict arising from Taiwan than all-out military warfare between US-China.  However, one does have to wonder why the U.S. is upping its military strength.

Trump and the China-Japan Economy

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a multilateral trade agreement initiated by the US and included 12 countries in the Asia Pacific and the US.  It was in negotiations for years and, as it neared completion, politicians and world leaders began to view it more as a multilateral organization–a coalition of Asia Pacific allies–rather than mere trade policy.  Unfortunately, however, TPP died in the 2016 election with both Trump and Bernie Sanders, as they cried that it would kill American jobs and be a world travesty (I lean more toward supporting TPP, mostly because it is an economic fact that trade benefits all consumers and hurts only a handful of manufacturers–and let’s be real, technology is going to kill jobs faster than trade.  Sorry folks, free trade and globalization isn’t going away).

The death of TPP hurts Japan because PM Abe basically worked his ass off to get it passed through the Japanese Diet and bam, Trump (and Bernie) shit all over it.  Trump wins, TPP dies, and Abe loses a ton of face.

It’s also a win for China, because TPP was made to essentially bully the Middle Kingdom (China was not included in TPP).  With TPP dead, China can better promote its own multilateral trade agreement, R-CEP, to Asian neighbors.  If you can’t make money with the US, you might as well make money with China– am I right?

Trump also wants to start a trade war with China since they’re “takin’ all our jobs.”

Well, I won’t go into details, but isolationism is the worst thing a country can do to itself.  Look at China during the cultural revolution.  Vietnam right after the Vietnam War.  Cuba.  Trade stimulates an industrial economy.  China has investments everywhere right now, including a host of countries in Africa, a swath of countries in the Middle East, Latin America–places the U.S. has been starting problems, but not starting new trade agreements.

While China and the U.S. will feel the pain if a trade war starts, at least China has a backup plan.  Meanwhile, Trump killed TPP, pissed off Japan in doing so and is now trying to undo NAFTA.  Who do you think is going to hurt more after this, China or the U.S.?  And don’t get me started on what large corporations such as Apple will do if Trump curbs trade–they will move their headquarters to other countries so they can continue getting cheap chips made in China to make the latest iPhone.

Should We Be Worried?

Why does the US have to be so involved everywhere?  Can’t we just worry about ourselves?

Well, the U.S. was the big man in a unipolar world in the 90s.  After the Cold War, the US emerged victorious.  We have the world’s largest military and we use it to keep world order (as well as leverage its power for our own personal interests, such as Iraq).  Whether you like it or not, if you study security in IR you’re going to study about what America does and why.

“I wouldn’t worry so much,” my boyfriend said to me when I freaked out about the above topics after the election. “Republicans in Congress also live in this country, and I imagine they want to keep themselves and their families alive and safe from the threat of nuclear war and thus are smart enough to make the right decisions and stop the President.”

I can only hope so.

11 thoughts on “What a Trump Presidency Means for US-Japan-China Relations

  1. I dont know much about China, so I wont comment on that, and learned allot from your ost about the Taiwan / China situation. I am confused with this, however:

    “Well, I won’t go into details, but isolationism is the worst thing a country can do to itself”

    But thats exactly what Japan has been doing for the last 200 years…or more? You wont find a US company in Japan, unless you live in Japan, and even then, all the management is Japanese. I cant remember when Ive seen a US made car, truck, tractor or any other machine, ith the excetion of CAT, in Japan. There are very few US or foriegn made products in Japan…and they do that on purose; it keeps allot of vested interest very happy.

    There have been several industries in the US decimated by Japanese companies. They buy a steel mill in one state, to support their car factories in other states, buy out all the local suppliers as well. This has been going on for decades, but will you find the same thing going on in Japan?

    As far as Japans security goes, how long should the US provide their security for them? Another 100 years? If Japan remilitarized, could they be trusted to put a cap on any nationalist intentions?

    1. Japan is far from an isolationist country, it conducts a ton of trade. I think the term you’re looking for is unequal trade policies; or rather (especially in the 80-90s) Japan’s inane keiretsu system (both horizontal and vertical) and their “controlled” domestic economy which made it almost impossible to enter. So Japan was not isolationist because it exported a shit ton of stuff (to USA, mainly) and made loads of money off of it–however, the US did not profit from the Japan market. Also, Japan got divine retribution for conducting its weird trade/business policies in the 80-90s when global competition kicked them in the ass and said: the rest of the world is operating under a “free market” and you better catch up–otherwise competition from abroad will steal all your profits (and really, Korea and Taiwan have already surpassed Japan in a swath of industries). I took an entire class on how the heyday of the 80/90’s Japan era and their weird business practices (and government/bank involvement) contributed to its recession, which has been going on for 20 years.

      My professor said there’s a lot of debate happening on whether “new Japan” policies are being implemented or not–but either way, Japan has been trying to shift toward an economy that is more compatible with the west. For example, there’s more foreign shareholders for major Japanese companies (they have to answer to stock holders that aren’t cross-shareholders anymore–they’re people that actually want to see profits), there are “sunshine policies” that force Japan into showing its accounting and financing books under law, and most of all–companies can now go bankrupt. Instead of keep worthless zombie companies alive, more (western) venture capitalists can sweep into Japan and buy up failing companies for whatever they want. Of course, all of these changes are happening at a snail’s pace so it’s hard to say whether Japan is actually changing or not. We’ll see. But yes, Japan does have “galapagos syndrome” where everything in Japan is done so different/unique no one can seem to enter the market, and Japan is not accommodating.

      A true isolationist country is one that does NO TRADE or highly restricts trade. A good example of this is Cuba (it just recently opened up) or China during the Mao era. Japan is actually the first country in East Asia to westernize on its own during the Meiji Era without the influence of colonization (which is pretty impressive). Japan’s two largest trading partners are China and the US, and Japan continues to make investments in the developing world as well, with Latin America and African countries. I’m not saying the US will become Mao/Cuba-level isolationist under Trump, but barring trade with Mexico and China will definitely hurt more than help.

      Yes, the steel mill was decimated by Japan–but it has been replaced with China. Now China dumps steel in the US. Same thing happened to Japan with semiconductors–they used to be king in terms of semiconductors, but due to competition with South Korea and Taiwan, they hardly make any money on semi conductors. Japan also used to be king with cell phones (they actually invented 3G), but again, they lost out. It’s just how a free market works. You either play the game right or lose–big.

      US will provide security for Japan as long as we went to have influence in the region (don’t think we’re in Japan out of the goodness of our hearts). President Xi is pouring a ton of money into the Chinese military, so I estimate in 20-40 years China’s military might be good enough to take on Japan (if the US is no longer there), and things will get ugly (lets say they’re going to enact payback for WWII). Some Americans say: screw it, why should we protect Japan? Why get involved in Asia? Others say it’s necessary to try and keep USA involved in East Asia and global affairs, otherwise China will eclipse us even faster and an authoritarian regime will have the autonomy to shape world order. Japan is actually a semi-weak country, and it’s hard for me to imagine Japan standing up to China currently, even if it got full reign to invest in military. I don’t think nationalistic tendencies are a problem anymore.

      China will be on equal playing ground with the US. It’s all a matter of *when*. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

  2. Fascinating, Mary, thanks for sharing. As the world gets smaller, it is impossible to overstate the importance of foreign policy. Too many Americans can’t see beyond their small towns or large states (looking at you, Texas). It’s why I preferred Hillary over Bernie, though I was glad he pushed her further to the left on domestic policy.

    What’s incredible to see are the lifelong Republicans suddenly reversing their stance on a resurgent Russia, just because the idiot Trump says he’s an okay guy. Don’t get me started on Putin and NATO.

    1. Oh man. Russia and Trump. That’s really frightening. I feel like we’re falling right into Russia’s hands… them interfering with the election, Trump and Secretary of State Tiller’s cozy relationship with Russia… it’s all too convenient. Putin is way more intelligent than Trump (and probably a majority of the Republicans in Congress) and that’s frightening. Putin is not a force to be reckoned with.

      If Trump actually changes policy on NATO then it confirms all of my fears: Russia is playing us. If we pull out of NATO, Russia is going to inch a lot farther than Ukraine. It wants to go back to its glorious USSR days.

      I’m just beside myself that we let a foreign country interfere with our election results and we’re ok with it. I guess the alternative (violent transition of power) is much worse, but still. Sigh.

      I liked Bernie’s domestic policies, but I think he had a lot to learn about FP. I feel bad for Hillary, she was continuously criticized as secretary of state, yet the books I’ve had to read about her and her time as secretary of state sing nothing but her praise as a diplomat.

      Sigh. Trump also put a freezing order on all Federal hiring today. My dreams of becoming an Foreign Service Officer and Civil Servant for the government were dashed with just one signature of his pen. I was very bummed today (not to mention he also cut funding for international programs that are even slightly affiliated with abortion.. god). Bleak.

  3. No thats a great response ) If I may go through it;

    “Japan’s inane keiretsu system (both horizontal and vertical) and their “controlled” domestic economy which made it almost impossible to enter”

    Its still very much controlled. Try to import any machine for sale into japan; watch it sit in customs, quarintined like an animal. They have their on electric, water, gas, hygiene standards office as well, and many imports from Europe or the US standards that are not “compatible” with Japans, so they can reject your product after making up some ridiculous excuse. If you do pass all of that, then there is the challenge of getting a local distributor to push it for you. Most likely, unless you dedicate a massive amount of time and resources,(translate all documents, manuals, corresondence into Japanese) they wont push it for you, as its not “japanese” or its too bulky, dangerous, you didnt study the local market, etc etc. There have been success stories, but they are rare. The stories I have on that. Ive actually seen them create situations where an imported product was installed, could no longer be serviced due to some clever obstacles put in place, then a locally similar made product installed, but it had work around features for the obstacles that were cleverly create (this is difficult to describe, even more difficult to experience..lol), The customer, who was of course Japanese, condemend the foriegn made product as inferior, trashed all of it and replaced them all with the domestic made product. There are many unpsoken and difficult to describe situations like this, but this is a very clever example of how Japanese can tactfully shut out any foriegn made product. They will initially let it in country, field it, then “create” obstacles to defeat it, then make a locally made “improved version” to defeat the obstacles cleverly created, then trash the import )

    I watched the hole tpp process take place in Japan, with constant stalling tatics, complaining that farmers got the shaft, who threatened to withold their vote, with the final agreement working out in Japans favor. I must applaud Trump for trashing this unfair agreement. He rightly will call each country to the table to get whats best for the US instead of some blanket agreement that benefits Japan the most; basically playing Japans game against them. Clever. I now read where Japanese advisors are condeming Trump and how Japan ill react in kind, but the fact is they really dont have any leverage and it appears to be checkmate. You correctly posted where Abe made great efforts to get to Trump first; seems he could see the writing on the wall…lol.

    “Japan is actually a semi-weak country, and it’s hard for me to imagine Japan standing up to China”

    I guess youve never had to endure a meeting with a bunch of Japanese nationalist, because such talk will cause all kinds of hissy fits, can even be dangerous. Japanese are fiercly proud of their martial past, and if ww2 is any example, are more than capable of making ar. China only has one aircraft carrier currently on the seas, and its not even originally Chinese. Japan has recently built several new ships to include a flat top that resembles a small carrier. They also have a new stealth plane in development. Japan could easily retool and create a Navy that is on par with the US in a few years. You posted before about schools with no heat and military style uniforms. The martial spirit is still there. If the leash is removed I have no doubt they would rearm and be a serious force to reckon with. I dont think China has this martial spirit, and its that yamato spirit they are most afraid of. No, Im not a fan of Japanese nationalism or facism, its very nasty, but I dont for one minute think that all of that is a thing of the past.

    “China will be on equal playing ground with the US. It’s all a matter of *when*. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime”

    I see this allot, but I disagree. The cultures are fundamentally diffierent. It was predicted that Japan would overtake the US in the 80s; their economic position is now #3 and sliding Now peace time economics and military build ups are 2 different animals, given the right circumstances, they could remilitarize, but as a peaceful economy without a war stimilus, there is no growth the be found after the Olympics. ). Seems the experts in academia etc got it all wrong. The Chinese, and Japanese in some cases, are too busy looking abroad for innovation, invention and ideas to copy. Unless there is some radical change in US culture, where creativity is replaced with what we see in China and Japan, I think the US will remain be ahead of the game, even with a large percentage of its population on drugs. If there is no longer anybody else to copy, and the Chinese have arrived at the pinaccle as the world super poer, then where are all of the ideas going to come from? The Chinese and Japanese are just playing catch up , like forcing their kids to learn advanced math at 5 years old etc. He can beat you at math as an adult, but he has no imagination to create an original idea because that as squashed in his childhood, so you imagine/create the idea, he improves it, but by the time he has improved it, youve done created a new idea, repeat cycle. Creativity is not something that is forced, or learned by the rote memory method.

    ” Trump also put a freezing order on all Federal hiring today. My dreams of becoming an Foreign Service Officer and Civil Servant for the government were dashed with just one signature of his pen. I was very bummed today ”

    No need to be bummed ) The private sector is much more exciting and challenging ) when you pay people whether they work or not, fraud waste and abuse creeps in as well as petty politics and entittlement.

  4. Seriously, if you ant the gov job, you can get it, they have hiring freezes almost every other month it seems; it ill be lifted soon Im sure. Dont let the vet reference discourage you either, thats not all what it seems. For ex., (Ive been out of that game for a long time, but as I remember it) a vet could have a 5 or 10 point reference but his/her occupation as an infantryman, artillery, a mechanic etc. So they apply for a management position or linguist slot, and you with an undergrad or graduate degree and awesome linguist skills apply. Based on their experience/skills (or lack thereof) it would be a difficult selection for them, due to their occupation. I struggled with this for some time. But, if he/she as a medic, had the 5 pts, and are applying for ex. a medical occuation, then the pts put them over the top. Otherwise we guys with the 5 pts just used it to get into the “system” in some logistical or other unskilled job, then what?. It depends on location as well, if you got retirees, dependants, civilians, and vets all competing for the same job, ell things can get interesting.

    Depending on the occupational speciality, some vets were at a real disadvantage when they got out. I mean, 4 or 8 years as an infantryman, its not exactly a transferable skill. The GI Bill tried to help bridge that, but in those days it as very limited, depending on what branch you served in. with the post 9-11 gibill there really is no excuse for a vet not to get themselves traind as its so broad and covers so much training that any skill gap a vet may have can be bridged with the money for tuition books and I think room and board. If I would of had that bennie I would of went to cullinary school or any of these wonderful schools you only find out about latter )

  5. Hey Mary! Sorry this comment isn’t about your post, but I wanted to ask if you had any Shanghai travel tips. I am going for the first time over Golden Week, spending 3 days at Disneyland (yeah, we are kind of Disney nerds so that’s why) and then 2 days in Shanghai itself. Not a lot of time for Shanghai, but what should we do?? In Tokyo I like neighborhoods like Shimokitazawa and Omotesando/backstreets of Harajuku, and Yoyogi Park and Meiji-jingu. Chinese markets are kind of overwhelming and not really my thing, but I guess we should go once? Oh, and I love 小籠包 and char siu (the Hong Kong style, not what comes with ramen), so if you have any recommendations for those, please let me know!

    1. Hey girl! No worries 🙂

      Wow you’re going to brave Disneyland in Shanghai huh!?! You two are definitely dedicated Disney fans!

      Shanghai has a lot of cool neighborhoods for sure! Here are some of my recommendations:

      1. French Concession: This is an entire area of Shanghai in Puxi; I recommend walking around. You can start your path at Xintiandi, which is a touristy spot but kind of fun to walk around. This is where all the “high-end” shops are, and there are some old, historical buildings mixed in as well. From there you can walk down Huaihai road to Shanxi Road. This person wrote a walking guide which I think will be useful for you!

      My other favorite places in the French Concession are near the Shanghai Library; basically, around this area.

      The french concession is all connected, so it’s easy to walk around. It’s a nice blend of China and Europe.

      2. Tianzifang: It’s kind of touristy but it’s a bunch of trendy little shops/cafes in an alleyway. Great place to buy cute souvenirs from China/Shanghai. You can easily walk through it in 2 hours so it makes a great stop. This is also in the French Concession area.

      3. The Bund: Make sure you go to Waitan (the bund!). You can get there by getting off the Nanjing East Road station and walking allllll (alllll) the way down to the river. This view at night is a must, it’s the Shanghai landmark. You can also go to Vue bar in Park Hyatt to get a cocktail and enjoy an aerial view of the bund, but it’s kind of expensive (costs 15 bucks to get in, but this includes a cocktail).

      There’s a really good Shoronpo (xiao long bao 小笼包) place in Yuyuan, but the line is killer I don’t think it’s worth it haha. You can try Din Tai Feng, it’s a Chinese restaurant (a bit upscale) but they have really good shoronpo.

      Some of my favorite restaurants in Shanghai are Jian Guo 328 (they have great noodles called banmian for lunch) and the new Lost Heaven Silk Road in Jing’an (it’s kind of expensive, but really good food/ambiance). There is another Lost Heaven, really good, here.

      Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy!

      1. thank you!!! ahhhhh this is so super helpful! I definitely want to go to the French Concession area and the Bund.

        Din Tai Feng is in Tokyo too, I’ve been several times (and also once to the one in Arcadia, CA). Not sure if it would be worth it to go to a Shanghai location?? Hmmmm.

        I’ve been reading lots of Shanghai Disneyland reports and I think it won’t be toooooo crazy. It’ll be Monday through Wednesday of Golden Week, which I don’t think most Chinese people will have off, right? But yeah, it’s the only Disney park in the world that I haven’t been to, and I really want to ride that Tron ride!

        crying forever at the 14,000 yen tourist visa for Americans… but I got a tip about asking for a 10 year multi entry visa for the same price so I’m going to do that. If we ever want to go back, we won’t have to pay again!

  6. Din Tai Feng is originated in Taiwan. I’ve only been to the original in Taipei, and it was pretty good…but you’re not going to Taiwan. Honestly, for dumplings or Shanghainese speciality soup dumplings…go to a local restaurant. Don’t knock out government run restaurants, they may not look much but they sometimes have the tastiest dumplings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.