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Japanese officials concerned Trump may weaken US support for Taiwan

Foreign ministry officials worried former US president may pursue China deal at Taiwan's expense

Donald Trump meets with Xi Jinping in Japan in 2019. (Reuters photo)

Donald Trump meets with Xi Jinping in Japan in 2019. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Japanese foreign ministry officials are reportedly concerned Donald Trump may be prepared to weaken U.S. support for Taiwan to improve relations with China.

On Friday (Feb. 2) Reuters reported two unnamed Japanese foreign ministry officials who said that they worried Trump may reduce support for Taiwan in pursuit of an unspecified U.S.-China deal. The report detailed an attempted “outreach” from Japanese officials to Trump amid concerns that his policies could undermine efforts to contain China’s rise.

The officials said they had no specific knowledge of Trump’s plans for either Taiwan or China and said their concerns were based on the Republican Party candidate’s first presidency. Trump expressed apparent dissatisfaction with Taiwan’s chip industry in July when discussing whether or not the U.S. should come to its aid in the event of war.

"If I answer that question, it will put me in a very bad negotiating position. With that being said, Taiwan did take all of our chip business. We used to make our own chips. Now they're made in Taiwan," Trump said.

Watanabe Tsuneo, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said he knew of Japan’s attempts to reach out to Trump. "We don't want risky seas for misunderstanding," he said.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is set to hold a leadership vote in September, and analysts and officials have said that Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s low approval ratings mean he may be ousted when this occurs. Watanabe said picking a candidate who can build good relations between Trump and the Japanese government will be a factor for the LDP if it chooses to replace Kishida.

Japanese officials concerned Trump may weaken US support for Taiwan
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks next to U.S. President Joe Biden at a 2023 summit in the U.S. (Reuters photo)

Watanabe said the party will look for a candidate who speaks English and can play golf. "A good golfer is bad, just needs to be a nice golfer so as not to beat Trump," he said.

Taiwan has repeatedly said it is confident in its relationship with the U.S., regardless of which political party holds the presidential office. This confidence was bolstered by a visit from a bi-partisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers in late January.

However, the Japanese officials join a growing number of voices discussing the possible negative impacts of a second Trump presidency on Taiwan.

On Tuesday, a former White House security official said during Trump’s administration, “One of the worst kept secrets in Washington was that Trump didn't care about Taiwan.” In the same report, China expert Bonnie Glaser said that China believes Trump does not see Taiwan as particularly important.

Japanese officials concerned Trump may weaken US support for Taiwan
Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives Taiwan Caucus Mario Diaz-Balart in Taipei on Jan. 25. (Reuters photo)

Other analysts have described a second Trump presidency as a “nightmare scenario” for China when considered in combination with Taiwan’s president-elect Lai Ching-te (賴清德). “Beijing sees both Lai and Trump as unpredictable and hostile to Beijing's use of power in the world,” U.S. analyst Rorry Daniels said earlier in January.

The concerns come as Trump has gained victories in key presidential primaries and has emerged in some polls as the front-runner in the race.

A poll published in early January showed that 70% of Republican Party supporters would be satisfied with Trump as a presidential nominee. It also showed U.S. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings drop to a 15-year record low. Only 57% of Democratic Party supporters said they would be satisfied with Biden as a presidential nominee according to the same poll.