Japan's diplomatic charm offensive within the US is aimed toward maintaining Washington-Washington relations

April 2024 proved to be a busy month in Japanese-American diplomacy.

The month saw a state visit by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the USA That included a gathering on the White House with President Joe Biden on April 10. The next day, each men were joined by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for the meeting First-ever trilateral summit between the US, Japan and the Philippines.

Then on April 23, Taro Aso, former prime minister and leading figure in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said: met with Donald Trump in New York.

As US-East Asian foreign relations expertI imagine the flurry of diplomatic activity points to 2 things: Japan's strong desire to extend engagement with Washington as a part of an Indo-Pacific strategy, and the very real concern in Tokyo that the U.S. will not be as engaged – regardless who will lead the country after this 12 months's election.

Allies and co-stewards

The Japanese government under Kishida – who was Elected Prime Minister in 2021 – has made it clear that they’re committed to an alliance with the USA

Kishida hopes to say Japan's role as greater than just that of the United States strongest ally in East Asia, but additionally as co-administrator of the “Liberal international order” – these are the worldwide rules and agreements established by leading economies after World War II.

Kishida's intentions became clear within the Japanese 12 months 2022 National Security Strategy, which detailed Japan's short- and medium-term strategic goals. While it included a commitment to unprecedented defense spending and the event of recent defense capabilities, it did so within the context of emphasizing the country's relationship with the U.S. as “the cornerstone of Japan's national security policy.”

Japan's strategy also calls for bilateral relations with the United States to transcend traditional security concerns and extend to providing economic security through efforts to strengthen the resilience of worldwide supply chains and strengthen economic engagement between allies.

Invest in alliances

Japan's desire to strengthen its partnership with the United States was largely reciprocated by Washington.

Closer ties are in keeping with those of the Biden administration plan to speculate in alliances as a core element of its foreign policy. The Biden White House was particularly in focus stronger security cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region.

To that end, Biden and Kishida unveiled a joint U.S.-Japan command center and a brand new Japan-U.S.-Australia air missile defense network during their April meeting. Likewise those trilateral meeting with the Philippines The US Coast Guard's improved training for its Asian partners in addition to joint patrols within the South China Sea were presented there.

While the implicit, if not explicit, goal of such collaborative efforts is usually that perceived threat from China The strategy has far-reaching geopolitical implications for regional stability.

By forging alliances between like-minded countries, the United States and Japan are promoting a worldwide system based on the prevailing liberal international order but emphasizing the various visions of democracies and non-democracies. In other words, they seek to create security through distinction – or an “us versus them” strategy – reasonably than through universalism.

The USA is pursuing this goal actively advocated for higher relations between Japan and South Korea — two Democratic U.S. allies deeply divided over reconcile after Japan's colonization of the Korean peninsula within the early twentieth century.

What a Trump victory could mean for Tokyo

But while the U.S. and Japan are in lockstep on many issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region, recent diplomatic spats in Washington — in addition to preparations for the visits — also raise areas of difference that concern Japan.

While Kishida has emphasized the U.S.-Japan economic relationship as a win-win scenario, the Biden administration has focused more on security measures.

In fact, Washington will not be entirely on the identical page as its Asian partners on trade and economic issues.

Biden did it, for instance speak out against the planned purchase of US Steel by the Japanese company Nippon Steel. Biden's reticence resonates a prevailing belief in economic nationalism in Washington, steeped in domestic politics.

But Tokyo's concerns transcend the present U.S. government's reluctance toward Japanese investment.

A possible second Trump presidency could, it’s feared in Tokyoupend the Biden administration's work to revitalize the alliance system within the Indo-Pacific.

It could also cause the US to fall further into economic nationalism. Under Trump, the USA saw Tariffs as a very important foreign policy instrument, while alliances are portrayed as transactional. For example, Trump demanded that Japan quadruple the annual payments that US troops needs to be stationed there.

Even under the Trump administration and to the chagrin of Japan within the USA left the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade agreementwhich continued without the US in the shape of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Japan on PR offensive

Japan is starting to hedge against a Biden defeat in November, laying the groundwork for what many in Tokyo hope will likely be a positive relationship with Trump should he grow to be president again.

Two men are standing there, one is holding a hat.
Former President Donald Trump meets with former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso in New York on April 23, 2024.
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in 2022, formed such a relationship with Trump. And it was notable that it was Abe's former deputy prime minister, Aso, who did this met with Trump in New York to now re-establish a private connection – although Kishida's government described Aso's visit as that of a single lawmaker acting in his own capability.

Still, Kishida knows that it will not be only a Trump presidency that would threaten Japan's interests and goals for the Pacific region. American political elites generally are Tendency more towards isolationism. Meanwhile, the American public increasingly divided and unsure in regards to the advantages of trade and the role the United States should play globally.

During his US visit, Kishida desired to speak not only with the Biden administration, but additionally with Congress – each Democrats and Republicans – in addition to the US economy and the American public.

It was not only a leadership summit but additionally a PR tour.

During his speech to Congress – only the second by a Japanese Prime Minister – Kishida emphasized the necessity for the US to be a trusted ally and to say, “The world needs the United States” and “the people of Japan are at your side to ensure the survival of freedom.”

And during a subsequent visit to North Carolina, where he toured a Toyota electric vehicle battery factory and a HondaJet subsidiary, he reaffirmed the ties between the 2 countries – while emphasizing the positive economic contribution Japan is making to the United States.

Looking for a stable relationship

Japan is embracing its identity as an actively contributing member of the liberal international order. With the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and uncertainty over Washington's global role in the course of the Trump administration, Japan emerged as a number one proponent of preserving and maintaining that order.

But Japan also hopes that the USA will proceed to play a central role.

The high-profile meetings between Japan's political elite and each Biden and Trump show that Tokyo is trying to the US as a reliable partner – within the interests of each regional security and economic prosperity. But that is something that’s making US domestic politics increasingly difficult.

image credit : theconversation.com