A 1989 bestseller bequeathed its title to the national vocabulary: “NO to Ieuru Nihon” (“The Japan that Can Say No”). Co-authored by politician Shintaro Ishihara and Sony Corp co-founder Akio Morita, the book was a plea for a more assertive stance by Japan toward a United States whose military and commercial guarantees of Japanese safety, freedom and prosperity came at the cost of a subservience which sometimes rankled.
Nearly three decades and much water under the bridge later, Shukan Bunshun (March 9) asks, “Can Japan say NO to Trump?”
There is a lot to say no to. In office less than two months, U.S. President Donald Trump has been bold in his pronouncements, swift in his actions, and unconventional, if a stronger word isn’t called for, in his judgments. “America first,” he has declared. “Make America great again.” The economy is the key. He was elected to rekindle it, and his determination to do so, running roughshod over anyone or anything perceived as standing in his way, is the key to his appeal among his core supporters.
The president of the United States does not act in an American vacuum. The impact of his actions, for better and worse, is worldwide. How should Japan deal with “Trump shock”?
With caution and as much calm as it can muster, is the general consensus among Japanese business leaders who share their thoughts with Shukan Bunshun. But it is, at best, an uneasy calm.
The unspoken question is: Does Trump know what he’s doing? Sometimes it comes very close to being spoken. Takuya Shimamura, president of Asahi Glass, sounds like he’s reading Trump a lecture on elementary economic realities when he says, referring to a Trump threat to tax automobiles imported from Mexican plants, “Cars produced in Mexico use a great many parts exported by the U.S. An import tax would raise the price of cars” – by 10 to 15%, by one estimate. “I don’t know,” Shimamura continues, “if Trump understands this, but the economy is a compound organism. A word from the president isn’t going to transform it.”
Takeshi Niinami, president of Suntory Holdings, puts a similar thought more sharply. “‘America first,’” he says, “won’t arrest globalization.”
Masatsugu Nagato, president of Japan Post Holdings, sees Trump’s mercurial unpredictability as a problem in its own right that potentially defeats whatever benefits his policies may confer. “TPP, NAFTA, WTO, the Paris Agreement” (referring respectively to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the North America Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and an international environmental protection commitment) – “Trump is very casual about overturning international agreements.” That being the case, “anything is possible.”
Back when “The Japan that Can Say No” was influencing public opinion, Shukan Bunshun notes, Trump was a high-flying real estate mogul in serious financial trouble. His speculations in real estate and casino development were landing him deeply in debt; Japan’s economy was soaring as the U.S.’s seemed to be sinking; and bashing Japan for allegedly unfair trade practices was a popular American pastime. Kazuo Takahashi, president of robot developer TMI, says Trump is still stuck in those days, his ire at Japan’s auto industry anachronistic and pointless.
“Trump touts himself as a businessman,” says Takahashi, “but he made his money in real estate and casinos. I don’t think he understands manufacturing. Never mind autos. Autos aren’t profitable anymore anyway. The U.S. should be putting its strength into the armament industry, the space industry, new high-value-added industries.” He adds the most devastating put-down of all: “Is he a dictator like (Kim Jong-un of) North Korea?”
Can Japan say no to Donald Trump? If Shukan Bunshun’s experts have sized him up correctly, it had better learn to.© Japan Today