The insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have sent shock waves through Japan, with mounting concern that their most powerful ally could pull back from the region while China flexes its growing military. pulling back from s sent has waves of anxiety through Japan as its leaders sense a shift in U.S. attitudes towards isolationism.
Current and former Japanese officials said the contentious presidential primaries have been interpreted as the American people seeking to pull back from global leadership. Of particular concern was They pushed back against suggestion from Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump's suggestion that Japan does not contribute enough to the security relationship.
"There has been some change, some structure change in the thinking of U.S. people," said Satoshi Morimoto, Japan's former defense minister, through a translator. "I think with Mr. Trump's supporters there is a commonality between them that they don't think the U.S. should bear the burden alone, they no longer want to be the world's policeman."
Morimoto rejected the notion that the U.S. security arrangement with Japan was unfair, saying that his country contributes nearly $40,000 per U.S. service member stationed there, nearly $1.7 billion per year. But he addedwent on to say that the skepticism among both Sanders and Trump's supporters should be taken seriously and that allies may need to contribute more.
"The U.S. cannot do everything on its own ... and so allies should step up their forces," Morimoto said. "We wish the U.S. to take leadership, but we do need to cooperate. We wish to uphold values based on international laws ... and in order to protect that we need to contribute."
In late 2015, Trump questioned the value and fairness of the U.S.-Japan alliance, a decades-old pact where the U.S. pledges to defend Japan in return for allowing them to base troops and warships there, becoming a U.S. security and logistics hub to respond to regional threats from piracy to North Korean militarism.
"If somebody attacks Japan, we have to immediately go and start World War III, okay? If we get attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us," Trump said. "Somehow, that doesn't sound so fair."
The allies are also worried that a Sanders presidency would be more inwardly focused on America's domestic problems, rather than maintaining U.S. leadership in regions from the Asia-Pacific to Europe.
Japan's current ambassador to the U.S., Kenichiro Sasae, echoed the call for the U.S. to avoid isolationismmaintain its leadership role.
"One candidate has taken a more isolationist stance," Kenichiro Sasae said. "I don't want to see that kind of United States. I want to see the United States strong and in a strong global position."
Another senior Japanese minister, who heads major agricultural and security programs in Japan's government, said that both countries needed to be clear about the alliance and what it provides.
"One candidate has been talking about change in alliance relationship and this is a concern in Japan," said Shigeru Ishiba. "We understand that the citizens of the U.S. choose the president and who they chose, that's none of our business. But no matter who becomes president I think an understanding of the nature of the alliance ... will lead to proper policies being implemented."
Morimoto agreedalso echoed that sentiment, saying it was important for people understand that both countries benefit.
"The U.S.-Japan security treaty is not unfair, we are both getting the benefit," he said. "Saying that because Japan is not putting up a fair share, the U.S. will withdraw: if you say that it will work against U.S. interests. The extent to which the U.S. is economically supported by this is not fully understood."