On October 29, 2019, Yamanouchi Kanji, Ambassador and Consul General of Japan in New York, visited Columbia University for a discussion with Gerald L. Curtis, Burgess Professor Emeritus of Political Science, and Hugh Patrick, Robert D. Calkins Professor of International Business Emeritus and Chairman of the Center on Japanese Economy and Business at Columbia Business School. Carol Gluck, George Sansom Professor of History, delivered introductory remarks.
The event, titled “US-Japan Relations in a Turbulent World,” covered the history of relations between the United States and Japan in a wide range of areas, notably politics and the economy, and endeavored to make sense of the unpredictable global developments influencing the relationship today.
Ambassador Yamanouchi began his presentation by highlighting the major figures that have built up the modern US-Japan relationship to date, beginning with the 1853 arrival of US Commodore Matthew Perry in Japan. Today, relations between the two countries are particularly strong thanks to the good rapport between US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said Yamanouchi. He cited 14 face-to-face meetings, 32 phone calls, and five golf matches between the two leaders.
The US-Japan alliance is the “cornerstone” of Japanese policy to achieve the goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” Yamanouchi emphasized.
Professor Curtis opened the discussion by asking the ambassador for his thoughts on why the US-Japan relationship has endured, if not improved, at a time when Washington’s relations with other allies have grown increasingly strained. Yamanouchi explained that trust, good communication, and the recent strides made in negotiations on trade and business have helped the relationship flourish. After two years of negotiations, Trump and Abe signed the US-Japan Trade Agreement in late September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The ambassador also noted that the relationship had overcome previous challenges: At the peak of the Japanese economic bubble of the 1980s, Japan-US relations were unassailable on the security front, but stumbled on trade.
Professor Patrick agreed that the relationship is currently benefiting from a positive shift on trade. But given Trump’s unpredictability, he questioned the basis for Japan’s confidence that the US would not break the current implicit truce and act to impose automotive tariffs later down the line.
Yamanouchi responded that Japan is “very comfortable” with the trade agreement reached and reaffirmed his trust in the US-Japan relationship. Unpredictability does not necessarily constitute a problem, he said, adding that “the process itself is important, and there is close communication” between the leaders.
Trust was a common theme in Yamanouchi’s remarks. In response to Curtis’ speculation that the US commitment to respond to threats to Japan’s security has become less credible under Trump, the ambassador suggested that the 32 phone calls between Trump and Abe were indicative of the high level of communication and solid trust, including on areas of concern such as North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development.
Other topics of discussion included the encouragement of study abroad programs for Japanese and American students; innovation and patents by Japanese companies; and Japan’s relations with other countries and regions, including India, China, South Korea, and the European Union.
This event was presented by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute (WEAI), the Center on Japanese Economy and Business (CJEB), and the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University.