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Analysis

Japanese views of U.S. ties worsen in poll

Respondents were less likely to respond positively due to recent developments.


Written by

Updated: December 20, 2018

A significant decrease in Japanese respondents who called current Japan-U.S. relations “good” or “very good” can be seen in a recent joint survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun and the U.S. survey firm Gallup.

In the survey, Japanese respondents who said relations are “good” or “very good” stood at 39 percent, down by 17 points from the 56 percent in the previous survey last year.

The 17-point drop is the largest decline since the method of the poll was changed to a telephone-based survey in 2000.

Those who said relations are “poor” or “very poor” also stood at 39 percent. That figure is up from 23 percent last year.

The joint telephone survey was conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in Japan and from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3 in the United States. In Japan, 1,036 randomly selected people responded to the survey, and 1,000 did so in the United States.

In the same question, 50 percent of U.S. respondents said relations are “good” or “very good,” unchanged from the previous poll a year ago. Those who said “poor” or “very poor” in the United States stood at 11 percent, down slightly from 12 percent last year.

When Japanese respondents were asked how much they trust the United States, 30 percent of them said “some” or “very much,” down from 39 percent a year ago. The figure is the lowest since 2000. For the corresponding question in the United States, 70 percent responded that they trust Japan “some” or “very much,” with the level remaining high from the previous survey.

The decline in positive evaluations from Japanese respondents over Japan-U.S. relations appears to reflect critical views of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has been calling for Japan to lower its trade surplus with the United States.

Japanese respondents who said they “disapprove” of U.S. pressure on Japan to lower the surplus stood at 75 percent.

On the other hand, asked whether the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty contributes the security of the Asia-Pacific region, 64 percent in Japan and 70 percent in the United States said “somewhat” or “greatly.” The high figures in both nations remained almost unchanged from the previous survey.

In response to a multiple-choice question on which countries or regions will become a military threat, those who picked China stood at 75 percent of Japanese respondents and 60 percent of U.S. pollees, up from 67 percent in Japan and 51 percent in the United States in the previous survey.

Asked about relations between their own country and China, 28 percent of U.S. respondents said “poor” or “very poor,” up from 16 percent in the previous survey. The figure surpassed the percentage of those who said “good” or “very good,” which declined to 22 percent from 29 percent in the previous poll. In Japan, those who said “poor” or “very poor” remained high at 67 percent, unchanged from a year ago.

As to the new tariffs that the Trump administration recently imposed on Chinese goods imported into the United States, 50 percent of U.S. respondents approved the U.S. sanctions, compared to 42 percent who disapproved. Among Japanese respondents, 47 percent disapproved the U.S. trade sanctions on China while 35 percent approved them.

As to Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea, opinions are divided. Asked about Trump’s handling of relations with North Korea, 49 percent in Japan approved it while 38 disapproved. Among U.S. respondents, 48 percent approved while 46 percent disapproved.

‘America First’ trade policy alienates Japanese

Evaluations of the Japan-U.S. relationship have drastically deteriorated among pollees on the Japanese side, according to a recent survey jointly conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and the U.S. survey firm Gallup.

The views of Japanese respondents are notable for a sense of distrust against U.S. President Donald Trump, who proclaims his “America First” policy, such as by demanding that Japan reduce its trade surplus with the United States.

Meanwhile, expectations remain strong for the United States to play a leading role in international society. With many people seeing China and North Korea as military threats, more than 60 percent on the Japanese side supported the role of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, just as in the results of last year’s survey, and their perception of the importance of the alliance seems to have remained unchanged.

Thirty-nine percent of pollees in Japan said the current bilateral relationship is “good” or “very good,” a 17-point decline from the 56 percent who said so in the previous survey in 2017. In the past three surveys from 2015 to 2017, from 56 percent to 58 percent had said it was “good” or “very good,” the highest levels since 2000, when the survey began to be conducted by phone. The result this time shows a drastic change.

By political party, 56 percent of Liberal Democratic Party supporters said the relationship was “good” or “very good.” However, only 30 percent of respondents with no party affiliation and 26 percent of opposition party supporters said the relationship was “good” or “very good.”

In the 2016 survey conducted right after Trump won the U.S. presidential election, 40 percent of pollees on both the Japanese and U.S. sides showed a pessimistic view that the bilateral relationship will get worse in the future. This anxiety has apparently cast a shadow on the results of the current poll.

Thirty percent of the pollees in Japan said they trust the United States “some” or “very much,” down from 39 percent in the previous survey. Looking at the Japan-U.S. relationship in the future, 71 percent — down from 77 percent — of respondents in Japan said it would “stay the same,” while 12 percent — up from 6 percent — said it would “get much worse” or “get somewhat worse.”

Trump’s words and actions apparently are largely responsible for the deterioration of Japan’s sentiment against the United States. Trump has insisted that the United States’ huge trade deficit with Japan represents “unfair trade practices” and has repeatedly demanded that Japan fix it. Seventy-five percent of the respondents on the Japanese side disapproved of his remarks, while 10 percent approved. In the United States, 50 percent approved while 39 percent disapproved.

On the Japanese side, the percentage who disapproved of Trump’s remarks was high even among those who rated the current bilateral relationship positively or said they trust the United States, at 69 percent and 65 percent, respectively. The results show that many Japanese respondents are unsatisfied with Trump’s demands regardless of how they evaluate bilateral relations.

Asked how trade should be, 47 percent of respondents on the Japanese side and 49 percent of those on the U.S. side supported protectionism, while 33 percent in Japan and 43 percent in the United States supported free trade, indicating pollees in both countries mostly favored protectionism.

Views on North Korea significantly diverge

The first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit meeting, between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was held in Singapore in June. They agreed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the summit, but the negotiations between the two countries have become tangled. Even if there is a possibility of holding a second summit at the beginning of next year, future prospects remain uncertain.

In a recent survey jointly conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and U.S. survey firm Gallup, 49 percent of respondents in Japan approved of Trump’s handling of relations with North Korea, while 38 percent did not.

Breaking respondents down by political party, 59 percent of Liberal Democratic Party supporters approved of Trump’s handling of North Korea, as did 52 percent of those who support opposition parties. However, among respondents with no party affiliation, 41 percent approved of Trump’s handling while 40 percent did not.

In the United States, opinion was split, with 48 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving. By political party support, however, responses diverged drastically. Among Republican supporters, Trump’s support base, 87 percent approved of his handling of North Korea, while 82 percent of Democrat supporters, who are critical of Trump, disapproved.

Perceptions of respondents in Japan and the United States greatly differed in regard to the possibility of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In Japan, nearly 90 percent of respondents said it would be impossible to completely denuclearize in the near future and only 7 percent saw it as possible. In contrast, about 40 percent of U.S. respondents thought it was possible, while about 50 percent believed it was impossible.

By political affiliation, there was little difference in Japan. In the United States, however, 53 percent of Republican supporters thought it was possible, and 42 percent did not think it was possible. Among Democrat supporters, 62 percent said it was impossible, while 31 percent said it was possible.

Trump has emphasized achieving North Korea’s halting of military provocations since the summit meeting, but a concrete road map for denuclearization has not been presented. Not a few respondents from both the Japanese and U.S. sides apparently have skeptical views on the possibility of a path toward Pyongyang’s denuclearization being paved.

As for views of Kim Jong Un, there was little difference between the United States and Japan, with 92 percent of Japanese respondents and 86 percent of U.S. respondents saying they did not have a lot of confidence in him.

U.S. unpredictability behind decline

Following are excerpts from an interview with Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Q: The percentage of Japanese respondents who said the Japan-U.S. relationship is “good” or “very good” decreased considerably.

A: I suspect there’s two things. One is the unpredictability of our decision-making. I think the Trump factor plays in across the board. Not so much because the U.S.-Japan relationship is bad. I think Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has tried to steady his relationship with Mr. Trump. But there’s a lot of ambivalence about American leadership on a lot of issues ranging from Iran to Russia to China. [Second,] trade clearly plays a factor. Unpredictability is particularly obvious on the trade side of things.

Q: In regard to Trump’s economic sanctions on China, 50 percent of Americans approved, while 42 percent disapproved.

A: I think tariffs are a step back in free trade. Imposing tariffs is protectionism, and there’s a discomfort with that. That’s the 42 [percent]. They may not be upset about the tough position on China for its economic behavior. They may approve of that. But they may not approve of the instrument of tariffs.

Q: Eighty-nine percent of Japanese say it’s impossible to realize total denuclearization of North Korea in the near future. In the United States, 42 percent say it’s possible. It’s a big gap.

A: Here’s what I thought was interesting about the U.S. response. Forty-eight percent approve of President Trump’s handling, and 42 percent think it’s possible to realize total denuclearization. [These are] very high.

However, the experts are very negative. Inside Washington, the expert community doesn’t like Trump’s handling, whereas the “ippanjin,” the public, are much more optimistic than I would have thought, because 48 percent say the president is doing OK.

Two things could be going on. One is just general Japanese skepticism about Pyongyang. The second is, if you look at Northeast Asia, you kind of understand there’s not much incentive for North Korea to give up those weapons. Americans, however, might think that if anybody can persuade the North, the United States can. They might have that blinder that Americans can do it. Whereas overall geopolitics might be [at work in] the Japanese response.



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About the Author: The Japan News is published by The Yomiuri Shimbun, which boasts the largest circulation in the world.

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