How Trump Could Push Japan, S Korea To Go Nuclear

(MENAFN- Asia Times) Will a Donald trump return to the White House lead to a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, beginning in South Korea and leading to Japan and even possibly to Taiwan? Of all the consequences of a Trump victory, this is the one that is least discussed openly in Tokyo. But behind closed doors, there is serious talk about this dark future.

The Japanese pronunciation of the former president's surname is Toranpu. I recently had an extended stay in Japan, during which the number one topic raised in my conversations with Japanese policymakers was moshi-tora –“What if Trump?” – the catchphrase for pondering Japan's fate if Trump returns to the White House.

Many dangers loomed in the minds of Japan's foreign policy elite, including:

  • a de facto surrender to Russia in the Ukraine war, emboldening China and even North Korea;
  • imposition of a 60% tariff on all Chinese goods, or even broader tariffs targeting Japan and Europe;
  • demands that Japan, and other allies, pay massive amounts to the US to keep American forces stationed abroad.

All of those“America First” moves are perfectly plausible, even likely, given Trump's past actions and current proclamations. Still, Japanese policymakers claimed to be confident that they could somehow manage Trump, following the model of Shinzo Abe – flatter him, pay him off and cultivate ties with his advisors.

Tora is not only a shortened version of the Trump name as it's pronounced in Japanese, Toranpu. A homonym, also an abbreviation, gained fame when it was used in the title of the 1970 movie 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' That was the code used in 1941 to signal the commencement of the 'lightning attack' – totsugeki raigeki – on Pearl Harbor. Photo: Wikipedia

“As during the first Trump presidency, if we have a good understanding in advance with the defense and national security team without Trump, that will help,” a former senior Japanese foreign ministry official told me.

The Japanese government will move quickly to press the US on the importance of American bases in Japan, believing that Trump's focus on a confrontation with China will depend in part on keeping the security alliance intact.

Even if he seeks to withdraw forces from Japan, he won't withdraw all, perhaps just 30-40%, a senior foreign policy expert who advises current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a private conversation.

Across the Tsushima Strait, South Korean officials also insist that a Trump return to power can somehow be managed without endangering the alliance on which their security depends. But there are also deep worries that Trump will move quickly to withdraw US forces based in Korea, triggered by Seoul's failure to yield to unreachable demands for payments.

These fears were reinvigorated by the comments Trump made in a recent extended interview with Time Magazine about his plans for a second term.

“We have 40,000 troops [in South Korea], and in a somewhat precarious position,” Trump said, overstating the actual level of forces (28,500) while restating his demand that the Koreans“step up and pay.”

This is not just a gangster-like extortion of protection money.“Why would we defend somebody?” he told Time.“We're talking about a very wealthy country.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, in his recent press conference following his party's defeat in the National Assembly elections, artfully avoided comment on Trump's remarks. He expressed confidence in the ongoing strength of the alliance relationship.


Asia Times

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