Just hours before Donald Trump’s full-throated embrace of protectionism in his inaugural address, Japan became the first country to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Days later, the new U.S. president issued an executive order pulling America out of TPP. Despite this and other setbacks, Japan remains well-suited to advance both a regional and global integration agenda.
This week, US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives in Asia to visit South Korea and Japan. It is now Mattis’ job to reassure policymakers in both capitals of U.S. commitments and return the trajectory of alliance relations back to pre-2016 presidential campaign rhetoric.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, is slated to visit Japan on December 15 and 16. He will arrive at a small airport on the western edge of Japan’s main island and stay at a traditional onsen (hot spring) inn located in the hometown of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There, Messrs. Putin and Abe will hold an unusual tête-à-tête — one between two middle-aged, naked men, bathing in the warm waters of Nagato city.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China, hostility to the U.S. and lavish praise of Japan have certainly raised some eyebrows. Yet, as surprising as his rhetoric has been, there is no reason to be overly concerned at this juncture. The fissure that has opened between Manila and Washington has given Tokyo an opportunity to play a larger regional role.