US Elections: Japan will further strengthen ties with US as an 'alliance of hope' - Abe

Employees of a foreign exchange trading company working as US president-elect Donald Trump makes a speech on-screen, in Tokyo on Nov 9, 2016.
Employees of a foreign exchange trading company working as US president-elect Donald Trump makes a speech on-screen, in Tokyo on Nov 9, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday (Nov 9) said he looks forward to working with United States president-elect Donald Trump to further strengthen the bonds of the Japan-US alliance.

In a congratulatory message, Mr Abe called the bond an "alliance of hope".

"Japan and the United States are unwavering allies tied firmly with the bond of universal values such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law," he said.

He praised Mr Trump as "a very successful businessman with extraordinary talents". He said: "Not only have you made great contributions to the growth of the US economy, but now as a strong leader, you have demonstrated your determination to lead the United States."

He stressed that the stability of the Asia Pacific region is a driving force of the global economy, and would bring peace and prosperity to the US.

Thus, he looks forward to the two countries "playing leading roles to ensure peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region", he said.

And on the issues faced by the international community, he added: "I intend to work with you hand-in-hand to address the various challenges the world confronts."

Mr Abe's message comes as Republican candidate Donald Trump was confirmed as the 45th President of the US, after campaigning on a protectionist platform and an 'American First' foreign policy that has deeply troubled Japanese envoys and officials.

Mr Trump has also said that the US defence of Japan is too expensive, and Japan ought to develop its own nuclear weapons to guard against the North Korean nuclear threat - a prospect unthinkable in the only country to have been attacked by atomic bombs.

Japan sees the US, which had ramped up its regional presence under a 'pivot to Asia' by incumbent president Barack Obama, as a key ally to counter a rising China.

Mr Abe on Wednesday instructed his special adviser on diplomatic affairs Katsuyuki Kawai to visit Washington to quickly forge a "relationship of trust" with the incoming administration.

On the trip to begin next Monday (Nov 14), Mr Kawai will likely discuss Japan's desire to strengthen its security alliance with the US, as well as the quick ratification of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact.

Mr Kawai told reporters: "It is most important that Mr Abe build a personal relationship of trust with Mr Trump, and I will be pleased if we can take a step forward towards achieving that."

Earlier on Wednesday, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo vowed to uphold the "consistent policy" of Japan's alliance with the US being the key pillar of bilateral ties between the two countries.

Separately, Japan's markets were on Wednesday roiled by the prospect of a Trump presidency, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 index plummeting the most since the British referendum vote in June to leave the European Union.

The index closed down 5.4 per cent, at 16,251.54, as investors ran for cover. The auto sector was the biggest victim, as Toyota, Honda and Nissan shed 6 to 7.8 per cent in their stock prices. Mr Trump has said that while Japan has shipped millions of cars to the United States, American carmakers have failed to penetrate the Japanese market.

Meanwhile, the dollar was down 2.6 per cent at 102.35 yen after a volatile day that saw it rise earlier to 105.48.

Mr Suga, speaking in the afternoon after Japan's Ministry of Finance, Finance Services Agency and the central bank convened an emergency meeting, called these moves "one-sided, rapid and speculative". He said the government will not hesitate to intervene to stem any excessive rises in the yen.

With Mr Trump's victory, there is a big question mark over the TPP, which is seen as the linchpin of US presence in the region.

Mr Trump has vowed to tear up the agreement, but Mr Suga told reporters he was confident the US would push to ratify the pact while Mr Obama sees out the remainder of his term.

Japan has touted the TPP as crucial in creating an estimated 800,000 jobs and an annual growth of 2.5 per cent, giving a shot in the arm to its stagnant economy.

In doing so, Japan has pushed the approval of the pact through the Lower House, with the treaty more than likely to be ratified during the Diet session in November.

Mr Sadayuki Sakakibara, who heads Japan's largest business lobby Keidanren, said he hopes that Mr Trump will adopt "realistic policies" as a man of business. He was quoted by national broadcaster NHK as saying: "Mr Trump does not have any business channels with Japan's financial sector as yet, and so I would like to forge new ties."

But Japan Association of Corporate Executives chairman Yoshimitsu Kobayashi said Mr Trump will likely implement protectionist policies "at least for a while", as this has been his election pledge. He foresees greater volatility on Japan's currency markets.

US foreign policy expert Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University told The Straits Times that Japan's concerns have arisen due to the fact that Mr Trump has not elucidated what his approach to the region, as well as trade and security issues would be.

"Japan has no idea what kind of policy he is going to pursue, and so we are extremely worried about it because of what he has said during the campaign. But at the same time, we trust he's not going to literally implement what he said, so the basic attitude should be to wait and see."

The ball is now in Mr Trump's court, Dr Nakayama said, to "send the message that the US-Japan alliance is important".

He noted that uniformed troops know the value of this alliance "not just for Japan but also for the United States", and would be best placed to convince Mr Trump of this importance.

waltsim@sph.com.sg