Donald Trump is widely seen in Japan to have done poorly in the second US presidential debate. That has come as an added relief to many Japanese – closely watching the debate that started at 10am local time on a national holiday – as he refrained from tearing into Japan, unlike the first debate.
After his repeated attacks on Japan over trade – accusing it of deliberately weakening the yen – and demanding it pays more for US military presence on its soil, Trump had softened his tone over the last few months. However, he returned to the topic in the first debate, saying US allies “do not pay us” for US protection and, “we can’t defend Japan, a behemoth, selling us cars by the million”.
The hundreds of Japanese tweets during the first debate had many pointing out that the dollar weakened by a cent against the yen as the two candidates clashed. The dollar had strengthened against the yen last week, which helps Japanese exporters by making their goods cheaper in overseas markets.
“There was real fear in Japan about the possibility of a Trump presidency, at least until the debates, about the potential impact on both national security and trade,” said Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.
“A lot of people in the Japanese government, businessmen, Japanese banks and in the military will be feeling relieved now that it looks like it definitely isn’t going to happen,” said Okumura. “Hilary excels in these town-hall-type debates, she’s the practice-makes-perfect candidate. Civilisation is safe for another four years.”
The Trump campaign, though, may be attempting to offer an olive branch to Tokyo by sending foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, to Japan this month to speak to senior government officials about the geopolitical situation in East Asia. Tokyo is understood to be keen to impress upon the Trump the threats to Japan from the North Korean missile programme and China’s territorial claims on disputed islands in the South China Sea.