Former Japanese Ambassador to the US sizes up an unusual presidential campaign

When US Senator Bernie Sanders withdrew last week from the race to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, it cleared the way for former US Vice President Joe Biden to take on President Donald Trump this fall.

NHK World Senior Commentator Masuda Tsuyoshi sat down with Japan's former ambassador to the US, Fujisaki Ichiro, and asked about what’s set to be a most unusual campaign.

Fujisaki served as ambassador to the United States from 2008 until 2012, during the Obama years. Currently he is president of the Nakasone Peace Institute, watching the US presidential election closely from Tokyo.

The campaign will take place in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, and Fujisaki says it’s not clear yet whether that will help Biden or Trump.

"It's 50/50, I think. The coronavirus could work both ways for President Trump. It gives him a good opportunity to appear on television every day with leadership, and that's good. But on the other hand, people remember that, in the first place, he said "Oh it's not a big thing. It'll be over by Easter,” and tried to portray it as a small issue, which was totally wrong."

He says there is another possible concern for Team Trump.

"Last time there were what we called "hidden Trump voters" who said in interviews ‘No, no, I won't go for Trump,” but on election day, they voted for him. I think in 2020, maybe we’ll see the opposite of that. If you're a Republican, you have to say that you're supporting your incumbent president. They will say, "Yes, I'm going to vote for the president, of course, I'm a Republican,” but then not vote. That could happen, I think."

Fujisaki Ichiro, Japan's former ambassador to the US

Now that Biden has secured the nomination, attention is turning to his choice of running mate. He has publicly pledged that his vice presidential pick will be a woman, and the US has never had a female vice president. Fujisaki thinks one candidate in particular stands out.

"Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar would be someone who could represent the middle of the road, from the Midwest, the battleground of the general election. And Mr. Biden is going to be over 80 years old when the next term is over. So maybe the next vice president will end up as a president. Mr. Biden will be thinking, ‘Hey, could she be a president of this country?’ And Amy Klobuchar, I think, has that quality."

Some of the other potential picks also represent ethnic minority groups, but Fujisaki doesn’t see that as a major issue. “My personal view is that Biden is already quite popular amongst minorities. So he doesn't need a minority as vice president."

Fujiasaki Ichiro believes that Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar would make a strong VP pick for Joe Biden.

Fujisaki says he thinks if Biden wins, the US foreign policy could change dramatically, just as it did when Obama took over from Bush, and when Trump replaced Obama. But he says the US policy toward Japan is likely to remain much the same no matter who wins.

"I think the United States needs Japan. And Japan needs the United States. I don’t think the relations will change with the president."

But that may be one of the few things that isn’t at stake in the coming election, as two very different men prepare to battle it out for the top job against the extraordinary backdrop of a global pandemic.

Watch video: 04:26