Disrespecting Allies: A Presidential Tradition

Both North and South Korean government officials were reportedly shocked by Trump’s sudden cancellation of the Singapore summit. The South Korean president was taken by surprise. It makes me recall this historical incident.

In July 1971 Richard Nixon announced that he would visit the People’s Republic of China the following year, signalling a major shift in U.S. foreign policy. Japanese Prime Minister Sato Eisaku was not pleased; he’d been informed only hours before the announcement. Japan had been the U.S.’s closest ally in Asia since 1945, hosting tens of thousands of U.S. troops and supporting virtually every U.S. action on the world stage. It had offered material support to the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam; indeed the payments for “special procurements” were significantly responsible for Japan’s postwar recovery. This was a very special bond. That Sato had not been consulted about the sudden U.S. move was surprising if not insulting,

In February 1972 Nixon visited China, opening a process that would result in the opening of diplomatic relations only seven years before. Meanwhile in September the Japanese new Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei visited China in September, just seven months after Nixon, and immediately reestablished diplomatic relations with China. It was one of the rare instances of a Japanese initiative at variance with U.S. policy (which was to still recognize Taiwan as the “legitimate” government of China). It was also a statement to the U.S. that where…

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