Introduction: Japan’s Expectations for the Biden Administration
Assuming Joseph Biden is inaugurated as the U.S. President on January 20, 2021, some Japanese will be happy and some will be unhappy. Happiest of all over the prospects of a President Biden will be the Suga administration and a large part of Japanʼs bureaucracy.
Why so? Once Biden is in the White House the pressure is off Japan. With President Trump, the Japanese government never quite knew what Trump would demand of them. However, a President Biden is easier to figure out. He will demand nothing of the Japanese. So the Suga administration and the Government of Japan （GOJ） will need to do nothing more than they feel like doing.
And Tokyo can revert its preferred, time-tested approach to dealing with the Americans: that is, grimace, do a little teeth sucking, and declare ʻtoo difficultʼ whatever it is the Americans are asking for. And if it costs money, just mention Japanʼs ʻsevere fiscal condition. ʼ That always worked in the past – until Trump came along – and it should work with the new American administration.
Bidenʼs people might complain now and then, but thatʼs all. They will not apply any serious pressure on Japan. They arenʼt those kind of people -- like that ʻtransactionalistʼ Donald Trump who didnʼt understand diplomacy, or so his enemies said.
Indeed, as the first order of business from the Biden team Tokyo might expect an apology for Mr. Trump having ʻruinedʼ the U.S.-Japan alliance by making the Japanese uncomfortable. And they will likely apologize for Trump having asked from an increase in host nation support money. Tokyo can safely ask for a reduction if it feels like it. So at least for a while Japan can revert to the pre-Trump status quo – doing only what it wants – while depending on the Americans to backstop Japanʼs security.
But only for ʻa while?ʼ Yes, only for a while. That is maybe three to six months. And the ʻsmartʼ Japanese understand this and are none too pleased Joseph Biden is President.