President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy resonates with his supporters, but has become a cause for concern for this country’s allies around the world.
In the 21/2 years he has been in office, Trump, the self-acclaimed billionaire real-estate developer from New York City, has angered European leaders with his heavy-handed dealings with them. And he has other heads of state in a quandary because of the mixed signals he has been sending.
Trump’s four-day state visit to Japan that concluded Monday is the latest case in point.
He traveled to Japan at the invitation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wanted to send a message to his nation’s enemies, especially North Korea, that the U.S. has its back – in all things.
Instead, Abe was confronted with this truth: Trump’s opinion of Japan’s well-being contrasts sharply with those of the Japanese people.
This despite the fact that the itinerary for the four days was designed to massage Trump’s enormous ego: A showy visit with the new Japanese emperor; a round of golf with the prime minister; and prime seats at a sumo tournament where Trump got to present a “President’s Cup” to the winner.
There were two pressing issues that the leaders discussed: North Korea and trade. Unfortunately, the talks exposed the deep divide that exists between the U.S. and Japan.
On North Korea, Trump sent shockwaves through the region when he brushed off last week’s North Korean short-range missile tests.
The missiles have the capability of striking Japan and other countries.
Asked if he was bothered by the missile tests, Trump said, “No, I’m not. I am personally not.”
Indeed, the president went so far as to disagree with his own national security adviser, John Bolton, and with Abe, who believe the short-range launches violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“My people think it could have been a violation,” said Trump. “I view it differently. I view it as a man [North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un] – perhaps he wants to get attention and perhaps not. Who knows?”
Trump has had two summit meetings with Kim in an effort to get the North Korean dictator to give up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The meetings were long on rhetoric but short on actual accomplishments.
However, the president continues to insist that his relationship with Kim has produced results.
“All I know is there have been no nuclear tests, no ballistic missiles going out, no long-range missiles going out, and I think that someday we’ll have a deal,” Trump said. He added that he isn’t in any rush to reach an agreement.
The Japanese, on the other hand, not surprisingly view the president’s nonchalance with regard to the short-range missile launches with deep concern.
“This is violating the Security Council resolution,” Prime Minister Abe said, adding that Japan, as North Korea’s neighbor, feels threatened.
“It is of great regret,” he added.
On the issue of trade, Trump complained of the “unbelievably large” trade imbalance between the U.S. and Japan.
The president has threatened to impose auto tariffs on Japan and the European Union, but declined to say what the Japanese would have to do to avoid those tariffs.
Trump and Abe tried to gloss over differences, but in the past Japanese auto companies have pointed to the billions of dollars invested in new manufacturing facilities in the U.S.
Trump said he expects to reach trade deals with Japan and China “sometime in the future,” and is expected to meet next month with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a world leaders’ summit in Osaka, Japan.
While Trump’s bullying tactics are playing well among his adherents in this country, recent developments have shown that leaders around the world aren’t intimidated.
China, for example, has reacted to higher tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods by raising tariffs on $60 billion in American-made products, including frozen fruits and vegetables.
American farmers have been especially hard hit, prompting the Trump administration to provide billions of dollars in relief to make up the losses in revenue.
But Trump, in flexing America’s muscle, seems to care less that leaders around the world are placing themselves in political jeopardy if they are viewed as kowtowing to the White House.
There’s a danger that these friends of America could be replaced by individuals who view the U.S. as the enemy.