Enhanced military cooperation between the United States and Japan in the face of a rising China was emphasized as President Donald Trump concluded a four-day state visit in the island nation.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Tuesday morning, hosted Trump on the deck of the JS Kaga, one of Japan’s helicopter carriers that will soon be converted to carry a short takeoff/vertical landing variant of the American-made F-35 supersonic stealth jet fighter.
The two leaders did not mention China by name in their remarks, but their concern about Beijing’s assertive stance militarily in the Pacific was obvious.
Abe spoke of an “increasingly severe security environment in the region.”
Trump said Japan’s purchase of an 105 additional F-35 Lightning II jets (each with a price tag of around $100 million) “will help our nations defend against a range of complex threats in the region and far beyond.”
Later, addressing hundreds of sailors on the nearby USS Wasp, Trump said of the F-35 planes: “The enemy has a problem with it. You know what the problem is? They can’t see it.”
Since the end of World War Two, when the United States and Japan were enemies, the Japanese have largely depended on American forces for defense.
“Now the Chinese are flexing their muscles eyeing two Japanese island chains,” says a source close to Prime Minister Abe.
“There’s an increasing need for us to do something on the eastern part of the archipelago with Japanese air power,” the source explained to VOA. “It is to supplement the U.S. 7th Fleet obviously and it is not to say the U.S. fleet is less accountable.”
There has been nervousness in Japan, which has a pacifist clause in its constitution imposed on it after the war by the U.S. occupation, about America’s long-term commitment to the defense of the island nation with scant natural resources. The worry grew after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. He had been known as a prominent “Japan basher” for decades as a real estate developer and has in office continued to criticize Tokyo for what he considers Japan taking unfair advantage of the United States in trade and not paying enough to host tens of thousands of American forces on its soil.
Trump’s latest visit to Japan is seen as assuaging some of those concerns, although trade frictions persist.
Trump, on Monday, said finalizing a new trade pact would be postponed until after parliamentary elections in Japan in July.
Trump restrained himself during his visit by not pushing Abe too hard on trade, according to Yuki Tatsumi, co-director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.
“For Trump to suggest that any trade deal will be after August was a good political gesture for Abe,” Tatsumi told VOA. “I think Abe will be put in a tougher spot in the long run, though. Atmospherics were extremely good indeed, but there was very little substance. There will be questions asked on whether it was worth it to welcome Trump with all those bells and whistles, especially when the visit achieved no concrete deliverable.”
Trump repeatedly touted that he was honored to be the first state guest of the new Reiwa imperial era during which Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako hosted him and first lady Melania Trump for a banquet at the Imperial Palace on Monday evening.
Abe accompanied Trump for a round of golf at a private course outside Tokyo and sat alongside him on the final day of a sumo wrestling tournament where the president awarded a large trophy, which he said he had personally purchased, to the champion wrestler.