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How Japan can 'win' with Trump

Tokyo must make itself relevant where it counts to the new US administration

| China
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Nov. 17, 2016. (Courtesy of Japan's Cabinet Public Relations Office)

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump after his election as U.S. president last November. On Feb. 3, James Mattis will visit Japan on his first overseas trip as the new U.S. secretary of defense. This early engagement suggests that Tokyo can play a pivotal role in shaping the Trump administration's foreign and security policy. But Japanese officials must be smart in pitching alliance cooperation to capture this controversial leader's imagination. Japan is in a unique position to do this, given the many ways it could help Trump achieve his more mutually beneficial goals, at home and abroad.   

First, for an American president skeptical about the value of alliances, Japan can pitch itself as a model ally that is no free-rider but in fact shares the burden of maintaining peace in the Pacific. Japan underwrites American forces stationed there, making them cheaper to deploy in Okinawa than they would be in California. Japan is increasing its defense budget and deploying sophisticated military capabilities not only to defend itself, but to help protect America, for instance by collaborating in missile defenses to protect against North Korea's threat to the U.S. homeland. Japan is expanding its military ties with U.S. partners including India, Southeast Asian nations, and NATO, which in turn reinforces their capacity to work with America's armed forces. Japan supports America's global posture, including by supporting missions in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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