Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit with President Biden aims to sell Tokyo as the linchpin of Eastern security and a bulwark against Chinese and North Korean aggression.
It is part of a historic change for the island nation, which has pledged to develop its military and abandon its pacifist policy that took hold in the aftermath of World War II.
Japan has also joined sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, although it has not provided lethal aid to Kyiv.
“Japan really broke out of the post-war mould, if you will, of hesitation about its military,” said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Asia-Pacific studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. .
“So we have a new Japan on the world stage, in some respects, which is less hesitant about the need for military might as one of the arrows in the quiver of its statecraft.”
Meeting in the Oval Office on Friday, Biden described Kishida’s visit to Washington as a “remarkable moment” for the U.S.-Japan alliance.
“I don’t think there was ever a time when we were closer,” the president said.
“Let me be crystal clear: The United States is fully, totally, totally committed to the alliance and, most importantly, to the defense of Japan.”
Kishida said Friday that the United States and Japan “face the most challenging and complex security environment in recent history.”
Japan’s commitment to doubling its defense spending over the next five years has been widely welcomed in Washington, and Tokyo walks away with concrete gains from the Biden administration.
That includes upgrading US troops stationed in Japan with increased capabilities such as advanced intelligence and surveillance, Biden officials said. The United States and Japan are also expanding their mutual defense commitments to cover space and cybersecurity.
The administration also approved Japan’s decision to develop counterattack capabilities. This would allow Tokyo to defend against incoming missile attacks and launch strikes against aggressors – likely North Korea or China.
Japan has identified China’s military buildup as a threat to Tokyo and sees Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as having the potential to spill over into the Indo-Pacific region.
“As Russia’s aggression against Ukraine demonstrates, the international community, including Japan
is a member, faces serious challenges and has plunged into a new crisis,” the government wrote in its National Defense Strategy released in December.
“In the future, one cannot exclude the possibility that serious events may occur in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in East Asia, which could shake the foundations of the stable post-war international order. .”
Japan joined US and European sanctions against Russia and sent humanitarian and defensive aid to Kyiv.
In June, NATO members took an unprecedented step by inviting Japan to join the summit meeting held in Madrid.
Jacob Stokes, senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, called it an “incredibly significant moment” in Japan’s defense policy and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
“You really see a very fundamental shift in Japan’s approach that reflects what they rightly view as a very severe security environment in Northeast Asia. Of course the challenge from China, but also threats from North Korea and Russia,” he said.
“From a US strategic perspective, Japan is really the cornerstone of our engagement in the region. Arguably, the most important country relationship the United States has in the Indo-Pacific.
Kishida arrived in Washington for the final leg of a five-country tour that took him to the Group of 7 nations France, Italy, United Kingdom and Canada.
Japan holds the G7 presidency for 2023 and will host the leaders’ summit in Hiroshima in May – the site of the first US atomic weapon explosion Japan also chairs the United Nations Security Council for the month January, part of his two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Tokyo seeks to use both locations to increase calls for disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. It comes as Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, China has increased its stockpile and North Korea is laying the groundwork for a possible nuclear weapons test.
“Japan is very committed to nuclear disarmament issues and the need to mitigate the risk of nuclear weapons being used,” said Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Tokyo balances this advocacy with its pursuit of military expansion. He signed a defense pact with the UK on Wednesday and fully aligned himself with what US and European allies define as the defense of the “rules-based” international and economic order.
“It’s an interesting recognition, I think, that the Indo-Pacific allies – Japan, in the first place – are now aligning themselves with our European allies in a very different way than they were in the past. And that is, again, thanks to Vladimir Putin,” Smith continued.
“You now have very similar language coming from our European allies and our Indo-Pacific allies, led by Japan, that this is truly a challenging time for the post-war order.”
One area where the Biden administration and Japan are not fully aligned is Washington’s refusal to respond to Japan’s demands to join a regional trade deal – officially called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). .
“So on the CPTPP, that’s not an option we’re exploring,” White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said Friday. She said the United States was focusing on an initiative launched in May, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
The CPTPP is a free trade agreement formed by the 11 members of the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership. Former President Trump pulled the United States out of that deal on his first day in office in 2017.
The UK is set to join the CPTPP and both China and Taiwan have applied to join the agreement. Smith said Japan was keen for the United States to participate in the CPTPP as a bulwark against China’s desire to join the deal.
“There is a concern, I think, that China, its economic clout will end up persuading other CPTPP members that maybe letting China in, it’s not a bad idea after all,” he said. she declared. “And the balance, I think, is what the region is looking for. People may not say it out loud, but the American counterweight to China is really what it’s all about.