Under the “America First” foreign policy, the Trump administration has taken a series of measures toward its East Asian allies the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, in order to force them to make substantial concessions on defense cost-sharing and trade issues. As a result, concerns over the reliability of the alliance with the United States have been raised in the two countries, posing new challenges to the US-ROK and US-Japan alliances.
“Fair Trade” and “Defense Cost-Sharing” under “America First”
The Trump Administration’s Pressure on the ROK
The Trump Administration’s Coercive Measures on Japan
Impact of “America First” on US-ROK and US-Japan Relations
Conclusion：Under the concept of “America First,” the Trump administration has imposed tremendous pressure on Japan and the ROK over trade and their cost-sharing for US military presence on their territories, forcing the two to make concessions to varying degrees. Undoubtedly, this approach will lead Japan, the ROK and other allies to rethink and review their alliances with the United States, though it will not fundamentally have an impact on the US-ROK or the US-Japan military alliance. After all, military alliances do not purely rely on “transaction” or “reciprocity.” The US always claims that its military alliances with Japan, the ROK and other Asian countries are based on “common values” and “common interests.” However, if the Trump administration overemphasizes “reciprocity” of the alliances, and remains obsessed with gains and losses, Japan and the ROK will definitely recalibrate as well whether the asymmetric military alliance with the US really meets their national interests in the new era and contributes to the regional peace, stability and prosperity. The dilemma encountered by Japan and the ROK also shows that the asymmetric military alliance based on inequality will lead not only to the “free-rider” phenomenon that has raised complaints from the US, but also to increased coercion and exploitation of its allies by the dominant actor in the alliance, in this case the United States. Once its powers, interests, and preferences change, the dominant party is likely to re-examine its alliance relationships, adjust responsibilities and obligations within the alliance, and force its allies to make greater contributions to that alliance.
（Wei Zongyou is Professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University）