Country Reports

Despite his unsettling campaign rhetoric and transitional moves, Trump rekindled hope among the Japanese right and the left in his first two months in office; but in April and May, he once again dashed much of it. For the right, Abe’s February meeting with Trump and the sense that US policy toward China and North Korea would be less patient boosted their optimism. However, the US trade-offs with China following the Xi-Trump April summit, saber-rattling toward North Korea, and Trump’s incompetence on daily display cast a dark shadow. For the left, Trump’s neo-isolationism linked to “America first” gave hope that Asian states (now so closely integrated economically) would cooperate more. In the April issue of Journalism, Lee Jong Won wrote optimistically that as US hegemony recedes in Asia, a new era is arriving where Japan, China, and South Korea have a chance to forge a regional order including an intra-regional security system. He sees a path to overcoming nationalism, a power transition leading to an equilibrium, a deepening of mutual dependency, a process of moving beyond Xi Jinping and Abe Shinzo’s divisive moves, and a way to reach beyond the North Korean issue (which is less serious than the Iranian one) since that state is just focused on maintaining regime survival and countering marginalization. Blaming Obama’s shift toward the containment of China, Lee welcomes the opening Trump offers for Asians to find a mechanism to manage competition. This thinking is characteristic of the left’s tendency to blame US entrapment for Japan’s problems in Asia, to anticipate China’s cooperation on regionalism, and to see a way around the North Korean problem—although such idealism has waned in recent years.

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