Donald Trump slammed Japan ahead of his arrival in Osaka for the G20, saying the US-Japan defence alliance was lopsided and Japan would watch “on a Sony television” instead of fighting if the US came under attack.
In an interview with Fox Business, the US president said the US was obliged under a decades-old mutual security treaty to defend Japan if the Asian nation came under attack, but that Japan had no reciprocal obligation.
“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. We will go in and protect them with our lives and with our treasure,” Mr Trump said on Wednesday. “We will fight at all costs . . . but if we are attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch on a Sony television.”
What does the president hope to gain by attacking the major ally who supports him more than any other right now?
Mr Trump has in the past frequently criticised Japan and South Korea, another key US ally in Asia, for not bearing more of the cost of hosting US troops in their respective countries. But his latest comments will raise concerns in Tokyo as Mr Trump prepares to meet Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister, on Friday in Osaka.
In two recent meetings between the leaders — in Washington in May and in Tokyo earlier this month — Mr Abe was relieved that Mr Trump did not press him on the alliance. Ahead of the meetings, White House aides and Japanese officials had worried Mr Trump might attack the alliance, which is viewed by experts as the linchpin of security in the Asia-Pacific, despite rising security concerns about China.
Mr Trump has previously suggested that Japan and South Korea should adopt a “cost plus 50” formula that would see the nations pay the full cost of hosting US troops along with an additional 50 per cent. His comments will also cause worry in South Korea, which will host Mr Trump later this week. Mr Trump will hold a summit with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, at the weekend.
During a visit to Japan earlier this month, Mr Trump declared that the US-Japan alliance “has never been stronger” but said Mr Abe was constantly trying to flatter him in an effort to ward off attacks about burden-sharing.
Michael Green, a Japan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Mr Trump’s comments were “ignorant” since there were “few scenarios” for conflict in Asia where the US and Japan would not both be in harm’s way.
“What does the president hope to gain by attacking the major ally who supports him more than any other right now?” said Mr Green. “Abe is infinitely patient but may be feeling a bit like [former Trump wives] Ivana [Trump] or Marla Maples these days. [But] he knows that the president is completely isolated within Washington in these views.”
The critical remarks about a key US ally come as Mr Trump prepares to meet Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at the G20. Mr Trump has frequently criticised Nato countries — with Germany taking the brunt of the attack — that have not met an alliance-wide goal to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. At a Nato summit in Brussels last year, Mr Trump launched an aggressive attack on Ms Merkel that stunned other leaders.
While previous US administrations have criticised Europe for not spending more on defence, Mr Trump has drawn fire for making personal attacks on the leaders of US allies as he appeared to cosy up to Vladimir Putin, Russian president. Some Democratic presidential contenders, and particularly Joe Biden, have castigated Mr Trump for taking an aggressive approach towards allies across Europe and Asia.
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