Can Japan say no to Trump?

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb 11. Reuters photo

TOKYO —

A 1989 bestseller bequeathed its title to the national vocabulary: “NO to Ieuru Nihon” (“The Japan that Can Say No”). Co-authored by politician Shintaro Ishihara and Sony Corp co-founder Akio Morita, the book was a plea for a more assertive stance by Japan toward a United States whose military and commercial guarantees of Japanese safety, freedom and prosperity came at the cost of a subservience which sometimes rankled.

Nearly three decades and much water under the bridge later, Shukan Bunshun (March 9) asks, “Can Japan say NO to Trump?”

There is a lot to say no to. In office less than two months, U.S. President Donald Trump has been bold in his pronouncements, swift in his actions, and unconventional, if a stronger word isn’t called for, in his judgments. “America first,” he has declared. “Make America great again.” The economy is the key. He was elected to rekindle it, and his determination to do so, running roughshod over anyone or anything perceived as standing in his way, is the key to his appeal among his core supporters.

The president of the United States does not act in an American vacuum. The impact of his actions, for better and worse, is worldwide. How should Japan deal with “Trump shock”?

With caution and as much calm as it can muster, is the general consensus among Japanese business leaders who share their thoughts with Shukan Bunshun. But it is, at best, an uneasy calm.

The unspoken question is: Does Trump know what he’s doing? Sometimes it comes very close to being spoken. Takuya Shimamura, president of Asahi Glass, sounds like he’s reading Trump a lecture on elementary economic realities when he says, referring to a Trump threat to tax automobiles imported from Mexican plants, “Cars produced in Mexico use a great many parts exported by the U.S. An import tax would raise the price of cars” – by 10 to 15%, by one estimate. “I don’t know,” Shimamura continues, “if Trump understands this, but the economy is a compound organism. A word from the president isn’t going to transform it.”

Takeshi Niinami, president of Suntory Holdings, puts a similar thought more sharply. “‘America first,’” he says, “won’t arrest globalization.”

Masatsugu Nagato, president of Japan Post Holdings, sees Trump’s mercurial unpredictability as a problem in its own right that potentially defeats whatever benefits his policies may confer. “TPP, NAFTA, WTO, the Paris Agreement” (referring respectively to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the North America Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and an international environmental protection commitment) – “Trump is very casual about overturning international agreements.” That being the case, “anything is possible.”

Back when “The Japan that Can Say No” was influencing public opinion, Shukan Bunshun notes, Trump was a high-flying real estate mogul in serious financial trouble. His speculations in real estate and casino development were landing him deeply in debt; Japan’s economy was soaring as the U.S.’s seemed to be sinking; and bashing Japan for allegedly unfair trade practices was a popular American pastime. Kazuo Takahashi, president of robot developer TMI, says Trump is still stuck in those days, his ire at Japan’s auto industry anachronistic and pointless.

“Trump touts himself as a businessman,” says Takahashi, “but he made his money in real estate and casinos. I don’t think he understands manufacturing. Never mind autos. Autos aren’t profitable anymore anyway. The U.S. should be putting its strength into the armament industry, the space industry, new high-value-added industries.” He adds the most devastating put-down of all: “Is he a dictator like (Kim Jong-un of) North Korea?”

Can Japan say no to Donald Trump? If Shukan Bunshun’s experts have sized him up correctly, it had better learn to.

Japan Today

  • 9

    Kurobune

    Yes. And they should do exactly that !

  • 2

    smithinjapan

    Kurobune: You're kidding, right? Abe literally LEAPT on a plane and went over to the US to nip at Trump's heels and please and pleasure him as much as possible. While other governments in the world said they would take on the people cast out or banned from the US, Abe and Japan were figuring out how they could give the national pension to the US to create jobs there, since Trump demanded it.

    Say "no"? not even if Trump told Abe to bend over a little more and lick his boots a little cleaner.

  • 8

    Aly Rustom

    smith- yes and no. You're right in that Abe's face and Trump's butt became lovers at first sight and should by now have their own koseki, but there is also a another darker element. The Japanese leadership (basically the LDP) are master manipulators. They are very good at manipulating others. They've done that to the Japanese public for years. The LDP as a whole took a look at Trump and gaged him for what he is: a narcissist who can be controlled by flattery and reverence. Abe was happy to shine his shoes, kiss his butt, -whatever it took- to get what he wanted.

    Japan will NEVER say no to Trump, nor to the US. These are the delusions of an old demented, soon-to-be-behind-bars, corrupt terrorist that never should have been the mayor of Tokyo. The powers that be in Japan are far more cautious than this senile idiot. My guess is they'll continue to play the butt-kissing game with DT and just hope to ride out the storm of 4 years while hoping that the next guy who comes in will be more "conventional".

    That's what I think is happening.

  • 1

    hachikou

    Of course no. Because Japan is facing a threat from China , North and South Korea. Japan tries to recruit allies as much as possible from the rest of the world. Recent Abe and Emperor's visit to South asia is what this is all about.

  • 3

    smithinjapan

    Aly Rustom: " The Japanese leadership (basically the LDP) are master manipulators."

    They're only master manipulators because the sheeple here are masters at letting themselves be manipulated. Only here do they say they are steadfastly opposed to the resumption of an NPP in their neighbourhood, then "but, shouganai" in the same breath. Abe has been rather plain-faced about what he intends to do, and despite the majority being against practicallly everything, they say "shouganai" and vote him in. That's not being manipulated, it's just being stupid. Same goes with a lot of Republicans and Trump fans; punch them in the face and tell them they like it and they'll thank you.

  • -7

    gaijin playa

    they would be very foolish to say no to him. the US has bolstered japans defensive capabilities with the US army bases in Okinawa, opened trade a lot more and has a set a standard, both moral and practical, for immigration. japan needs to follow the Trump-meister

  • 2

    patty cake champion

    A 1989 bestseller

    That was a VERY different time. I doubt many JT posters, including myself, remember what Japan was like during the bubble.

  • 0

    Kurobune

    @patty cake champion - I certainly do ! I reaped many benefits from that bubble.

  • 3

    njca4

    Japanese people never say NO. They say MAYBE, which basically means no.

  • 1

    Damon Chandler

    As much as I personally want Abe to stand up to Trump, considering Japan's own Trump-like policies on immigration, discrimination, women's rights, labor laws, and the Japan-first mentality, what exactly could Abe say without sounding like a total hypocrite? Words must be backed up by actions, and Abe is no Merkel or Trudeau.

    The unfortunate truth is that the U.S. can easily survive without Japan, but not vice-versa.

  • -2

    Aly Rustom

    They're only master manipulators because the sheeple here are masters at letting themselves be manipulated. Only here do they say they are steadfastly opposed to the resumption of an NPP in their neighbourhood, then "but, shouganai" in the same breath. Abe has been rather plain-faced about what he intends to do, and despite the majority being against practicallly everything, they say "shouganai" and vote him in. That's not being manipulated, it's just being stupid. Same goes with a lot of Republicans and Trump fans; punch them in the face and tell them they like it and they'll thank you.

    Excellent insight smith. Agree with everything you said

  • 0

    1glenn

    The American Idiot-in-Chief is a threat to everyone on Earth, and the Japanese have a difficult tightrope to walk in their foreign relations. Good luck.

  • -3

    pointofview

    Don`t think they ever said no to Obama.

    Takahashi should take a look at the accumulated debt on both sides before he starts questioning someones economic wisdom.

  • 0

    Alexandre T. Ishii

    Yes, no way to follow an arrogant of no brain like him, average zero in world politics or economy, who belongs to real-estate as owner of everything to be manipulated, new world order of labor slavery of never ending and elevating with his policy,

  • 2

    kamejima47

    As a citizen of the United States of America with a worldview, I strongly oppose "America First" on mainly two grounds: 1. The arrogance of its precepts and 2. The geographically incorrect name. If anything, it should be labelled: "USA First". America is the name of the entire continent and is divided into four main section: North America (Canada, United States of America, Mexico), Central America (Guatemal, etc.), South America (Colombia, etc.) and the Caribbean (Cuba, etc.).

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