Donald Trump, the real estate developer who is the Republican Party’s leading presidential candidate, has repeatedly targeted China and Mexico in his campaign speeches for “ripping off” the U.S. on trade and taking American jobs.
He added Japan to the list of enemies in a speech last week that was reminiscent of the 1980s “when Japan’s economy was booming and its companies were buying trophy American assets like movie studios and Rockefeller Center,” according to the New York Times
“They come over here, they sell their cars, their VCRs. They knock the hell out of our companies,” he told Oprah Winfrey in 1988, according to the newspaper. In a Playboy interview in 1990, he said: “First they take all our money with their consumer goods, then they put it back in buying all of Manhattan.”
Trump’s comments have sent a chill throughout Japan, whose economy has suffered from slow growth and repeated recessions since its property bubble burst in the 1990s.
“My friends in the Foreign Ministry are in a state of panic,” said Kiichi Fujiwara, an expert on international politics at the University of Tokyo who is cited by the NYT. “This is the first time in a long time that we’ve seen straightforward protectionism from an American presidential candidate.”
Trump isn’t alone in targeting Japan. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also have been vocal about trade deals that disproportionately hurt Americans.
“China, Japan and other Asian economies kept their goods artificially cheap for years by holding down the value of their currencies,” Clinton wrote last month in an opinion piece
, adding that the United States should consider “effective new remedies, such as duties or tariffs.”
Clinton had supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Asian countries including Japan that is awaiting ratification from participating countries, but has backed off from it during the presidential campaign.
Trump has singled out Komatsu
, a Japanese maker of construction equipment, for taking advantage of a weak yen to clobber U.S. rival Caterpillar. Trump also said he would use Caterpillar and John Deere machinery to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
That message has resonated with factory workers who have seen their livelihoods evaporate as manufacturing moves abroad.
“The last thing I want to do is come off as defending Donald Trump, but there is an issue with the yen,” an official at the United Automobile Workers union, which traditionally supports Democrats, told the newspaper.
The value of the yen has fallen about 40 percent
in the past four years as the Bank of Japan and Japanese government have tried to revive growth with a mix of spending, quantitative easing and negative interest rates.
Trump also has critiqued the military alliance with Japan that says the U.S. will defend the country if it’s attacked. Japan’s Constitution, imposed on it by occupying American forces after World War II, prohibits the country from helping the U.S. if it’s attacked.
Japan may end up feeling isolated against a more aggressive North Korea or China, but at least one of its politicians says Japan needs to bear a greater burden.
“The U.S. has been saying for some time that Japan needs to bear more of the burden for regional stability,” said Jiro Aichi, a member of Parliament the leading Liberal Democratic Party, told the NYT. “Trump is saying it in a more extreme way, but it’s a fact that Japan has to do more.”
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