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Redefining U.S.-Japan Trade Relations Under Trump
Author: Shihoko Goto
Region: Asia
Theme: Economics
Location: Japan
Published July 29, 2019
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The Trump administration has had no qualms about going against conventional U.S. policy norms and long-established rules of engagement. Thinking outside of the box has not been without its merits; it has certainly led to much-needed reassessment of practices that could benefit from change. The greatest risk of such change, however, is when policy shifts are sudden, unexpected, and unexplained, especially with long-established partner nations. In the two years since President Donald Trump took office, the single biggest challenge for key U.S. allies has been to scramble to adapt to those drastic changes. That, in turn, has led them to reexamine and even alter their own longer-term strategies. For Japan, the pressure to adapt to such changes has been particularly intense, given its continued dependence on the United States for security in an increasingly unstable region on the one hand, and its reliance on robust trade relations with the world’s largest economy on the other. At the midway point of the Trump administration, Japan has actually emerged stronger over the past two years, at least on the trade front. Against the odds and defying expectations, it has succeeded in strengthening its position as a stabilizing force amid ongoing uncertainties in global trade rules. Yet, its success so far does not mean that the latter half of Trump’s tenure will be smooth sailing for Tokyo. In fact, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s balancing act of managing robust relations with the United States while ensuring Japan’s own economic interests may prove to be more difficult. The challenge is to further the gains it has made as an economic stabilizer, even as that outcome will redefine its broader role as a champion of the liberal international order, which has been put on shakier ground.

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