Diplomatic Pouch / December 8, 2016
By Larry Luxner
With Donald Trump to be sworn into office less than two months from now, diplomats across the globe wonder what a Trump presidency will mean for their nations.
On Dec. 1, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation gave ambassadors from two of the world’s most important U.S. allies — Japan and the United Kingdom — a chance to sound off on that very issue.
The panel, titled “The Value of Strong Alliances,” featured ambassadors Kenichiro Sasae and Sir Kim Darroch. Walter Lohman, director of the conservative think tank’s Asian Studies Center, moderated the discussion.
Darroch wasted no time in diving into the Brexit controversy.
“As we leave the EU, it’s important to forge new trade agreements throughout the world,” he said. “There is no question that the United States is the most important partner for trade and investment, accounting for 17 percent of our trade. So a free-trade agreement with the U.S. is going to be right at the top of our priority list.”
Darroch assured his audience that Brexit will not affect the U.K. military relationship with Washington in any way.
“We have the world’s fifth-biggest defense budget, and the second-largest in NATO behind the United States,” he said, estimating that Britain spends about $50 billion a year on defense and has committed to spending $270 billion over the next decade. “We are one of only five countries in NATO that meet the 2 percent defense spending threshold and we will remain on guard against extremism, terrorism and the increasing Russian threat.”
Sasae said that Japan — which since World War II has traditionally downplayed its military — wants to assume a larger security role. Recently, Japanese peacekeeping forces were deployed to Sudan, which he called “a major step forward.”
“We’d like to do more to expand our international security role and contribute more to international peace within our constitutional mandate,” he noted. To that end, he said, “our prime minister is very much looking into changing the constitution.”
Sasae added that Japan has always had the United States in mind as its principal trade partner.
The Japanese envoy did not hide his disappointment at the apparent death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a 12-nation trade arrangement strongly supported by the Obama administration but fiercely opposed by labor unions as well as both Trump and his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“We still want to convince the incoming government, along with newcomers in the Senate, by talking about the strategic importance of TPP. This agreement is still very helpful in terms of creating jobs,” he said, claiming that enactment of TPP would actually save millions of American jobs while boosting the economies of Southeast Asia and countering China’s growing influence around the world.
“People think TPP is a multilateral agreement, but if you really study it, you’ll see there is a bilateral arrangement engrained into the agreement,” he said. “And whatever arrangements we work out, you can’t really avoid the reality on the ground.”