HUMZA AHMAD a former APP Research Assistant and current nonresident fellow
C.D. ALEXANDER EVANS, wrote an op-ed for The Japan Times,
Friday, July 8, 2011 on what the Republicans presidential hopefuls might say about Japan. The result is a witty, amusing, and sometimes sad account of how little Japan will be noted in Republican foreign policy.
NEW YORK — In recent years both the United States and Japan have seen leadership changes at the highest levels of government. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama was elected U.S. president, followed in 2009 by the ascendance of the Democrat Party of Japan, ending the nearly unbroken postwar dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party.
After both changes of power, relationship managers on both sides of the Pacific scrambled to find out as much as they could about these new ruling parties and their new national leaders.
While a change of power is by no means assured, the 2012 U.S. presidential election holds the potential to bring a Republican back to the White House.
Although it is an open secret that the Japanese political elite have always been more comfortable with the pro-military, pro-free trade Republicans, a look at the current field of candidates leaves no guarantee that a Republican administration would strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship.
Three of the candidates seem particularly negative. Michele Bachmann, a House member from Minnesota, called the Japanese health care system an example of "gangster government" in 2009 when she claimed that the threat of not receiving health care silenced open criticism of the system.
Ron Paul, a House member from Texas, is strongly in favor of free trade but he is strongly opposed to overseas U.S. military bases.
Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, voted for a bill in the Senate in 1995 that tried to limit sales of Japanese automobiles in the U.S. on purely protectionist grounds.
For Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and former Ambassador to China, China seems to be a more important focus for America's attention.
According to sources close to the campaign, Huntsman's pro-China stance and cultural affinity for China (he was a Mormon missionary there and speaks fluent Mandarin) might translate to a negative perception of Japan, in general, and the U.S. military's presence there in particular.
Three of the candidates do seem quite positive. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has been in favor of a strong Japan-U.S. alliance, and traveled to Japan on a speaking tour in 2009.