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Trump 2.0: What Would It Mean for Japan

In a year of successive global elections, many in Japan wonder how they would fare under Trump 2.0. A one-time advisor to the former president speaks out.



Alexander B Gray at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on February 28. (© JAPAN Forward by Daniel Manning)

A February 28 talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan featured United States national security expert Alexander B Gray. Discussing Japan and Donald Trump 2.0, he covered everything from military and economic policy to Japanese misgivings. His focus was on what to expect from a second Trump administration.

Gray is a former Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council under President Donald Trump. His job also included Director for Oceania and Indo-Pacific Security. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council

Increasing Japan-US Military Coordination

In his opening remarks, Gray gave his thoughts on what to expect from Trump's Indo-Pacific policy, should he return to office. The Indo-Pacific Framework, a declassified document, "laid out Trump's main areas of focus in the Indo-Pacific," he said. One of the pillars of this strategic framework, Gray states, is "the commitment to defending the first island chain." 

However, Gray adds that he believes Trump will extend this commitment to the second and third island chains. He cites China's influence operations and undermining of sovereignty in the region as the reason for this. 

China's Belt and Road Initiative threatens the "stability and long-term sustainability" of Oceania and the second island chain, he warns. As Gray explains, Beijing also aims to gain "permanent military access in the second and third island chains." While the Taiwan Strait and Korean Peninsula are also critical areas, protecting the island chains is imperative, he argues. 

"Ensuring unobstructed access" to these island chains is essential to "a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy." Gray declares that this would be a crucial task for the Japan-US alliance under a second Trump presidency.

He also mentioned the Futenma military base relocation issue in Okinawa Prefecture. Although he declined to speak for Trump, Gray hinted at what a Trump administration might consider when deciding whether to proceed with construction. 


For example, he emphasized cooperation with Japan in determining the best disposition of both countries' assets to maintain Indo-Pacific security. Another factor would be the ability to "respond to whatever the contingency might be in the Indo-Pacific." These two points, he said, would be the "key strategic question(s)" informing Trump's decision.

Republican presidential candidate and former US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event ahead of the Republican presidential primary election in North Charleston, South Carolina, on February 14, 2024. (©REUTERS/Sam Wolfe)

A Case for Less Speculation

Potential friction between the US and Japan over economic relations with China was another point Gray identified. 

"Everyone understands the difficulty of strategically reassessing economic ties with China," he said. Gray pointed out that the US is also considerably interdependent on trade with China. "What's most important," he said, "is that the US and Japan are coordinating our approach economically to the Chinese challenge."

Japan is free to "make its own considerations on economic matters," he emphasized. However, alongside this must be "US-Japan discussions about hardening our economies collectively against Chinese coercion."

Gray suggested this would again be at the core of Trump's policies. "We don't have to speculate as much about what President Trump might do if he is reelected," he insisted. In the years of Trump's previous administration, "We have four years of evidence to fall back on," Gray said.

The Issue of Defense Contributions

There has been much conjecture about Donald Trump's stance on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Ukraine, and Russia. Here, too, Gray pointed to the former president's actions during his administration. 

On NATO, Gray underscored that Trump persuaded the organization to "contribute (more) to its own defense." US presidents had discussed this since the Carter administration, he said, but Trump was the first to succeed. 

Concerning Ukraine, Gray countered doubts by pointing out that Trump supplied the country with the Javelin anti-tank missiles it is currently using. Regarding US-Russia relations, he reminded the audience that Trump had "cracked down on the Nordstream pipeline." Additionally, he noted that Trump also "sanctioned more Russians than any president in American history."

Alexander B Gray at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on February 28. (© JAPAN Forward by Daniel Manning)

Japanese Apprehensions

Despite Gray's affirmation that Trump champions alliances and free and open trade, some in Japan are skeptical. Trump recently claimed he would block Nippon Steel from acquiring US Steel. He revealed his position before President Joe Biden articulated the same stance. 

One reporter asked why Trump would block what is essentially a business deal between two allied countries. In response, Gray contended that "concerns on an individual level with specific transactions" did not contradict Trump's stance on alliances. He maintained that it does not change Trump's "approach to alliances and keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open."


Former Prime Minister Taro Aso's recent US visit was another incident that raised concerns about a second Trump presidency. Rumors suggest that Aso tried and failed to organize a meeting with Trump. Aso was a close confidant of the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His seemingly cold reception has generated anxiety about a change in Trump's attitude toward Japan. 

When JAPAN Forward inquired how Japan should interpret this, Gray's reply was frank. "(Trump) is running a nationwide election campaign," and "his focus is on becoming the Republican nominee," he said. Gray explained that Trump is being careful "not to cross into President Biden's responsibilities while [Biden's] president." According to the former official, "[Declining the meeting] does not reflect anything about Trump's views."

Continuing the Abe-Trump Legacy

Although the press conference dealt primarily with the future of Japan-US relations, Gray also reflected on the past. Toward the end of the conference, Gray was asked to indicate a "concrete gain" for Japan from the Abe-Trump relationship. "An alliance that was able to effectively increase deterrence in the Indo-Pacific," he replied. 

Before the Trump administration, Gray states, the US was discussing "A new model of great power relations." What this entailed was "acquiescence to China," he says. Gray notes that Abe understood the threat China posed, "but he didn't have a partner in Washington who understood. Everything changed under his (Trump's) leadership to treat China as the paramount threat." 

For Japan, he says, "I don't know that there could have been a more successful outcome than that."


Author: Daniel Manning

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