Yuriko Koike questions Donald Trump's admin stability in view of US-Japan alliance

Head of Japan's Party of Hope and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike speaks at a debate session at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, on Oct 8, 2017.
Head of Japan's Party of Hope and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike speaks at a debate session at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, on Oct 8, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, leader of Japan's nascent opposition Party of Hope, said on Monday (Oct 9) that she is unsure whether US President Donald Trump's administration is stable even as she affirmed the importance of the US-Japan alliance.

Ms Koike, 65, said in an interview that Mr Trump's White House may be unstable because of the many changes in personnel since the president took office in January.

Her comments stand in contrast to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has courted Mr Trump in an attempt to bolster ties between the two allies.

"I am not yet sure whether the Trump administration is stable," Ms Koike said on Monday in Tokyo. "There are extremely dynamic personnel changes in the main White House posts. Alongside the American people, I want to look carefully to see what kind of administration this will be."

She added, however, that she has no argument that the basis of Japan's security is the alliance with the US.

"I have no differences with the Liberal Democratic Party or the Abe administration in terms of diplomacy and national security," she said referring to Mr Abe's ruling party.

A slew of senior staff members have been fired or resigned from the White House since Mr Trump took office. Notable departures include chief strategist Steve Bannon in August and communications director Anthony Scaramucci a month earlier after only 11 days in the job.

At the weekend, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker - a Republican with close ties to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson - called the White House an "adult day care centre" and told the New York Times the president's threats against North Korea could set the US "on the path to World War III".

While Ms Koike expresses concern about Mr Trump's administration, Mr Abe has been careful to praise the president. The two leaders have spoken regularly on the phone as tensions with North Korea escalate, and may play golf once more when Mr Trump visits Japan next month.

The Japanese prime minister turned on the charm on a visit to the US before Mr Trump's inauguration, presenting the then-nominee with a Japan-made golf club.

Ms Koike, a former defence minister known for her patriotic views, also said that one of her concerns for the US-Japan alliance was what she sees as a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing on issues from climate change to North Korea.

"There is a positive side to this, but it's very unclear what our country's position will be in this case," she said. "It's not a bad thing for the leaders of the US and Japan to establish a close connection, but we have to look at what changes the US administration will undergo, and make sure Japan's presence remains firm. I think there are aspects that need to be made stronger."

The interview came hours after a poll indicated that her bid to upset Mr Abe's ruling party in a general election less than two weeks away may be losing steam.

Thirteen per cent of respondents to a Yomiuri survey said they would vote for her party in the proportional representation section of the Oct 22 lower house election, down from 19 per cent about a week ago.

Support for Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party fell slightly to 32 per cent in the telephone poll of 1,099 eligible voters. Twenty-seven per cent said they were still undecided.

Ms Koike told Bloomberg that the emergence last week of the new left-leaning Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan may have been a reason for her party's fall in the polls. She also said she suspected Mr Abe called the election to hide from a raft of scandals that have hurt the premier.

The Yomiuri poll is good news for Mr Abe, who is seeking a fresh mandate ahead of an LDP leadership vote next year that could put him in line to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

Ms Koike had launched Party of Hope (Kibo no To) last month in a surprise move just hours before Mr Abe said he would call an election, rallying a weakened opposition in a race that had been widely seen as relatively comfortable for the premier.

"Abe has been the only focus of power - there was no other option," Ms Koike said. "My election as Tokyo governor and the win by the Tomin First party show that people want an alternative political force to the LDP and there's no change to that feeling now."