Today I attended the Global Conference of the University of Southern California USC in Tokyo and had the chance to listen to a panel with retired U.S. General David Petraeus, attend a media roundtable with him and sit in his interview with Sankei Shimbun, which is to appear in the Sankei edition tomorrow.

There were two remarkable take-aways from his comments.

He praised Prime Minister Abe not only for being the first to have reached out to President Trump after he was elected. He also described it as a great job how the Japanese government has actually strengthened the US-Japan security alliance over the last 10 months. Trump was e.g. the first president who officially stated the Senkaku Islands to be part of the collective defense zone while other presidents had made such remarks only within press statements. Petraeus also explicitly mentioned various individuals of the Japanese government incl. Foreign Minister Kono and Security Advisor Yachi to have excellent relations to their U.S. counterparts.

Petraeus surprised the audience with his insistence that the current U.S. government actually displays a huge degree of continuity with regard to foreign affairs and relations. He admitted that Trump displays a fragmented communication style combined with a very “unique” negotiation style that can be summarized as “punch your opponent on the nose and try to extract as much as possible while he is still trying to find a balance”.

But he also insisted that the Trump government ultimately has not deviated from the core pillars of U.S. foreign policy. One is accepting the “One China” policy. Another is its critical stance towards Russia despite early attempts of Trump to establish a special Donald-Wladimir relationship.

It is the U.S. system of checks and balances incl. a strong Congress that corrected the early approach of Trump to Putin and meanwhile has led to strong Russia sanctions made up in the Congress. Likewise Trumps crazy immigration policies of the first months have been corrected by a working legal system of checks and balances.

The most assuring comment however came with regard to North Korea. Having two extreme leaders in the U.S. and North Korea has clearly led to tensions and a crisis level as high as never before. But Petraeus convincingly listed up all the excellent members of the U.S. security team that he deems to be everything but war-crazy and whom he deems able to prevent a destructive war.

The audience in Tokyo certainly liked the reassurance that a war with North Korea is not imminent and that the Japan government works in perfect sync with its U.S. counterpart. Everybody here knows that Japan needs the U.S. more than ever. And it does not matter much who the guy is that is sitting in the White House.


Jochen Legewie

Jochen Legewie

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