Trump’s Japan-bashing has close U.S. ally in Asia on edge – USA TODAY

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TOKYO — Stealing American jobs, freeloading on defense, manipulating currency.  That’s Japan according to Donald Trump.

Little wonder the prospect of the brash billionaire businessman moving into the White House in 2017 has set this close U.S. economic partner and security ally on edge.

“We have been watching the rise of Mr. Trump as political entertainment, but it’s no longer a joke,” said Toshihiro Nakayama, professor of American politics and foreign policy at Keio University in Tokyo. “His views are a geo-political threat to Japan and the way he talks is very difficult for us to understand.”

Trump’s rise to become the Republican presidential front-runner has been fueled in large part by his repeated vow to get tough with Japan and other countries that he says compete unfairly with American businesses.

“I’ll bring back our jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places,” Trump said when he kicked off his campaign in June 2015.

He’s also accused Japan of not playing fairly on defense. “If Japan gets attacked, we have to go to their defense and start World War III,” he said in a speech last month. “If we get attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything.”

Japan-bashing is nothing new for Trump. As far back as the 1980s, when Japan’s export-led economy was surging and U.S. complaints about unfair Japanese trade tactics were common, he complained that Japanese companies “knock the hell out us” and were “buying all of Manhattan.” At the time, the dollar was so weak against the yen, Japanese investors could snap up U.S. properties at bargain prices.

There might have been some truth to that then, but no longer, said Tobias Harris, a Washington-based political risk analyst and a former aide to a member of Japan’s parliament.

“The picture Trump paints of a Japan that has exploited the U.S. is simply false,” said Harris. “Japanese manufacturers have rushed to invest in the U.S., creating jobs for thousands of American workers. The U.S. and Japan are more closely aligned than ever as far as economic interests are concerned.”

The United States ran a trade deficit with Japan of $68.6 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Commerce Dept. That’s nearly a third less than the $89.7 billion deficit 10 years earlier, and far less than the $366 billion U.S. deficit with China last year.

A Congressional Research Service report released in 2014 concluded that U.S.-Japan economic ties are “strong and mutually advantageous.”

“During the last decade, U.S. and Japanese policy leaders seem to have made a deliberate effort to drastically reduce the friction that prevailed in the economic relationship during the 1970s, 1980s, and the first half of the 1990s,” the report said.

The same holds true on defense, said Jeffrey Hornung, an Asia-Pacific security specialist at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, in Washington, D.C.

Hornung said Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tightened the U.S.-Japan security relationship since taking office in December 2012. That includes reinterpreting Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow Japanese forces to operate overseas and come to the aid of U.S. troops if attacked.

Although Japan declined to send troops to fight in the 1991 Gulf War, but contributed billions of dollars instead, Japan sent peacekeeping troops to southern Iraq from 2004 to 2006, and has maintained ships and planes on anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden since 2009.

About 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan. The Japanese government spends about $1.5 billion a year in “host nation” payments, which includes salaries for Japanese workers at U.S. bases and lease payments for base property.

“The accusations that Japan is obliged to do nothing to help the U.S. in the case of a conflict ignore all the progress over the past few years,” said Hornung, who previously worked at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a Defense Department-sponsored research institute in Honolulu.

Nakayama said Trump’s campaign could damage the trust between the two allies. “I am a little disappointed that no one is seriously trying to counter Mr. Trump’s charges,” he said.

Trump’s Japan-bashing has close U.S. ally in Asia on edge – USA TODAY}

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