Japan Urges Caution to Trump on China Deals as Biden Invites PM Kishida for State Visit

Tokyo intensifies efforts to convey concerns amid fears of potential U.S.-China deal jeopardizing regional stability.

In a bid to caution U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump against striking any deal with China that could disrupt years of collective efforts to curb Beijing’s influence, Japan, America’s closest ally in Asia, has intensified its diplomatic outreach to individuals close to the former president. The move comes as Trump’s recent victories in Republican primaries have positioned him as a potential frontrunner for the 2024 presidential election.

According to interviews with six Japanese officials, conducted under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, Tokyo has been actively engaging with Trump’s associates in recent weeks. These efforts include dispatching a senior ruling-party figure to attempt a meeting with Trump and involving Japanese diplomats with think tanks and former U.S. officials aligned with the former president.

The concerns at the forefront of Japan’s worry list involve the possibility that, if Trump returns to power, he may pursue a trade or security deal with China. Japanese officials fear that such a deal could undermine recent collaborative efforts by the Group of Seven (G7) nations to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

While the Japanese officials have no specific knowledge of Trump’s plans, their concerns are based on his past public comments and actions during his 2017-2021 term. Trump’s previous trade agreement with Beijing in 2019, which later expired, raises apprehensions about the potential impact of any new deal.

Of particular concern to Japan is the possibility that Trump, in pursuit of a deal with China, may weaken U.S. support for Taiwan, a move that could embolden Beijing’s claims to the island nation. Trump’s history of defending relationships with authoritarian leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping, and seeking a nuclear deal with North Korea, adds to the unease among Japanese foreign ministry officials.

Trump’s recent statement on Fox News, where he suggested that answering a question about defending Taiwan against China would put him in a “bad negotiating position,” has heightened concerns in Tokyo about potential shifts in U.S. foreign policy.

In addition to security concerns, Japan worries about the potential revival of protectionist trade measures, such as tariffs on steel, and demands for increased financial contributions towards the cost of stationing U.S. forces in the country. Japanese officials are seeking a preemptive approach to understand whether these issues might resurface and to convey Tokyo’s positions ahead of time.

As part of this effort, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is preparing for a state visit to the U.S. in April at the invitation of President Joe Biden. Japan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement, saying it was “watching the U.S. presidential election with great interest” while emphasizing the bipartisan commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The outreach by Japan reflects a proactive stance to understand potential challenges and convey its positions, particularly given Trump’s recent statement that, if elected, he would block the planned $14.9 billion acquisition of U.S. Steel by Japan’s Nippon Steel.

While Japan remains vigilant, both the Chinese and Taiwanese foreign ministries have expressed their commitment to working closely with the U.S. regardless of the election outcome. The delicate balance in the region hinges on maintaining stability and preventing any unilateral actions that could reshape the geopolitical landscape.

Notably, the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first foreign leader to meet Trump after his 2016 victory, established a close relationship that played a crucial role in diffusing contentious issues. Japan’s current efforts underscore the importance of proactive diplomacy to navigate potential challenges in the evolving dynamics of U.S.-Asia relations.

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