Instead of bashing Japan, candidates should call for greater U.S. support of our most important ally in Asia, and a bulwark against Chinese domination.
As a vital ally in Asia and a bulwark against China, it needs our support, not decades-old calumnies. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, arriving in Washington this week for President Obama’s nuclear-security summit, is America’s strongest ally in Asia — a region crucial to America’s future. Since taking office, Abe has pursued politically risky policies that have steadily bolstered not just Japan’s, but also America’s position in Asia. So he must be puzzled to find himself at the center of a U.S. political dispute.
Battling for votes, the Trump presidential campaign suggests that Japan is an economic and military drain on the U.S. After criticizing China, the campaign smacks Japan. Such overheated rhetoric is as outdated as it is misguided.
In the last few years, Abe has labored mightily to reinflate his currency, to restrain risky regional disputes that also endanger U.S. interests, to raise Japanese defense spending, to adopt new defense guidelines increasing Japan’s regional and global security burden, and to bend his country’s U.S.-inspired post-war constitution to enable Japan to defend U.S. ships and troops in the event of an attack. In the process, he has sought to jump-start Japan’s stalled national economy — the third largest in the world — and to push trade deals advancing Western resilience against China’s economic bullying.
He has done all this even as China’s military probes Japan’s southern boundaries and northern Japan recovers from a tsunami-related nuclear-plant disaster. Instead of the Japan, Inc. that scared Congress and labor unions in the 1980s and 1990s and inspired fearmongering books like Clyde Prestowitz’s Trading Places, Japan now struggles with an economy that has persistently underperformed for two decades, ironically due to many of the same misguided Keynesian policies that President Obama has used to leave the U.S. economy stuck in low gear since the 2008 financial crisis.
Today’s leading economists, as well as Prestowitz’s newest book, Japan Restored, argue that Japan’s economic revival would help America and the world. Instead of being the fearsome economic predators of 1990s myth, Japanese companies like Honda, Nissan, and Toyota have opened auto plants in the U.S. that have created more than 1.3 million jobs through 2013, and have become innovative partners in new manufacturing areas like robotics.
Even more important, as an economic rival, Japan has been supplanted by a far more menacing competitor, namely China. While some aspects of our trade deficit with Japan could stand some correcting, the deficit with China has ballooned to $365.7 billion, a new record. Chinese cyberattack and commercial cybertheft endanger both Japan and the United States.