Bane Or Boon – The Future Of Sino-Japanese Relations Under Trump

December 2, 2017 12:58 pm75 commentsViews: 133

U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, has pitched an “America First” foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security, strongly stating that “Peace through strength will be at the center of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.”

Promising trade deals working for all Americans, the “strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers. In addition to rejecting and reworking failed trade deals, the United States will crack down on those nations that violate trade agreements and harm American workers in the process.” – which clearly offers a glimpse into how Trump’s administration would handle foreign affairs, most especially for two of the Asia’s biggest players, Japan and China.

During the presidential campaign and after winning the elections, tariffs on foreign goods and negotiating trade deals “through tough and fair agreement” – which has evoked responses from various countries – has been proposed by the Trump administration. And just recently, attending the ASEAN summit held in the Philippines together with the other world leaders, Trump headed home with the “America First” ringing in Asian ears.

With Trump on the throne and the tensions between countries (particularly between Japan and China) continue to rise, how will the Trump administration’s policies affect the Sino-Japanese relations and how do Japan and China plan to respond?


The Japan – US alliance is one of the most important relations for the US’ security interests. Given that Japan is one of the world’s most successful democracies and largest economies, maintaining a good relationship is fundamental to regional stability and prosperity.

In return, while U.S. needs Japan as one of the prioritized allies in Asia, Japan has more reason to need US for its own security. With its undemocratic and increasingly hostile neighbors, including the North Korea which has launched missiles in the Japan’s vicinity for eleven times on the 4th of July and China continuing its buildup of islands in the South China Sea, Japan remains dependent on US in terms of protection.

The unexpected win of Trump in the US presidential elections should have sent shock waves in Japan as he repeatedly criticized Tokyo, speculated that Japan “may very well off”, and suggested that he would consider cutting ties with Japan before and during his campaign. Enough reasons to doubt Trump’s willingness to maintain alliance.

However, due to an immediate threat from North Korea and the long-term challenge of China, rather than turning away from the Trump administration, the Japanese government has doubled down on its alliance with the US for which Abe and Trump’s personal ties remains strong. But of course, a growing anxiety in Tokyo about Trump’s administration is still present. Japan still depends on the US’ plans in maintaining a credible threat of military force against North Korea to confirm the abandonment of the current nuclear arsenal.

But, until the US is able to communicate and implement a better plan for confronting North Korea threat and problems with China, Japan will remain doubtful about their bet on the Trump administration.


While Japan’s ties with the United States keeps getting stronger, China on the other hand, has a deep mistrust with America being angered by the US military flights and naval patrols in the disputed East China Sea and South China Sea and its suspicious defense ties with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and India.

However, despite the bitter-sweet relations, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoquiang stated that China is looking forward to work with the US, deepen mutual trust, and focus on practical exchanges and cooperation to continue injecting energy in the development ties.

And while problems with North Korea continues to persist, Trump should develop a stronger relationship and use its results to put pressure on North Korea and give China the reassurance that “America First” doesn’t mean “America Alone”.


The Trump era could be good for the Sino-Japan relations. Although it might seem impossible, as these two countries have had a long history of conflict and rivalry – including the recent issues such as the disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and the halting of UNESCO funds over the Nanking event; Trump’s threat to North Korea might drive the two countries together.

As Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joins forces with the US calls for China to increase pressure on North Korea to ensure peace on the Korean peninsula, it might help drive stabilization to the Sino-Japanese relations.

Another reason for an improved relation between Japan and China is the absence of US regional role which makes it imperative to be proactive in improving relations. With Trump withdrawing from the TPP, his foreign policies can make the United States’ playing China off against Japan a real possibility.


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