Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yasushi Tomiyama

【#440(Special)】Trump Administration Is Lenient toward China

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2017.05.18 (Thu)

May 15, 2017

     The Trump administration is remarkably lenient toward China in its Asian diplomacy, giving top priority to securing China’s cooperation in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. Outside the Trump administration, as seen in an editorial of The Wall Street Journal on April 26, an opinion has emerged in the U.S. that a pro-China government replacing the Kim Jong Un regime may be acceptable if North Korea is denuclearized. The United States could back up the creation of a new Asian order in accordance with China’s strategy.

FONOP has been turned down
     The Trump administration’s conciliatory approach to China is the most remarkable in regard to the South China Sea. The U.S. Defense Department at the highest level turned down the U.S. Pacific Command’s offer made in late March to conduct U.S. warships’ passage through waters within 12 nautical miles from China-occupied Scarborough Shoal under the Freedom of Navigation Operation, according to The New York Times dated May 3.
     The previous Obama administration carried out the FONOP four times, in October 2015, and January, May and October 2016, under its stance that it would not allow China to impede foreign ships’ navigation rights. Even during the period when the operations were implemented, China has stepped up efforts to develop military facilities in the South China Sea. However, the Trump administration has not conducted the FONOP over four months since its inauguration.
     Meanwhile, China has blocked Taiwan from participating in a general meeting of the World Health Organization in Geneva later this month. While a U.S. State Department spokesman has issued a statement offering strong support for Taiwan’s participation in the WHO meeting, there has not been any sign that the Trump administration has worked on China to admit Taiwan’s participation.
     Since his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida in early April, President Donald Trump in his Twitter messages and statements made to CBS News and other major U.S.media organizations reiterated his readiness to make concessions to China over economic problems in exchange for China’s cooperation in dealing with the North Korea issue.

Pro-China regime in North Korea?
     The Trump administration has apparently set North Korea’s acquisition of a capability to conduct a nuclear attack on the mainland U.S. as the red line that Pyongyang should not pass. If China seriously exerts pressure on the Kim regime and can either force North Korea to give up nuclear and missile development or lead to a regime change, the United States may make a series of concessions to China in line with U.S. national interests.
     However, such concessions could exert grave impacts on Japan. A U.S.-China agreement to create a non-nuclear, pro-China regime in North Korea, as discussed in the Wall Street Journal editorial, means that China could increase influences on the whole of the Korean Peninsula at a time when a leftist government has been established in South Korea. In place of the North Korean threat, China’s medium to long-term threat could increase.
     The best scenario for Japan and the United States is that a unified, non-nuclear, liberal democratic country will emerge on the Korean Peninsula after the collapse of the present North Korean regime. As an ally sharing values with the United States, Japan must persuade the Trump administration to understand the significance of the best scenario.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.