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Biden welcomes Japan's prime minister in show of unity to China

President Biden will also host Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos at a crucial time in U.S.-China relations.
Biden welcomes Japan's prime minister in show of unity to China
Posted at 12:41 PM, Apr 10, 2024

President Joe Biden is welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the White House on Wednesday for an official visit and state dinner. The leaders want to showcase the partnership between the United States and Japan as concerns over China come to the forefront before a trilateral summit with the Philippines on Thursday.

U.S. officials view the visit as marking a new chapter in the alliance and more broadly as an affirmation of President Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

“In the last 60 years, you would define this relationship between the United States and Japan, since it got formalized in 1960, as one of alliance protection. I think this state visit kind of ends that era and defines the next period of time,” a senior administration official said.

The visit signals the importance of the Indo-Pacific strategy, marking official visits with India, South Korea, Australia and now Japan under the Biden administration.

“What I really think is happening here is the president's theory of the case for his Indo-Pacific strategy is being borne out. When he came into office, the president theorized that if we invested in our alliances and our partnerships, those allies would step up alongside us so we could do much more together collectively in the Indo-Pacific, which would in turn leave us much more strongly positioned,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, special assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for East Asia and Oceania.

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The visit is expected to bring a large set of agreements on technology, economic investment, global diplomacy and defense.

As Japan has increased its defense spending and sought a joint operations center, officials said the U.S. is expected to give its intent to update its command and control in Japan for closer integration. AUKUS, the partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, also indicated an intent to start consultation with Japan to consider its inclusion in a pillar of the agreement focused on advanced capabilities.

“Until very recently, Japan had an extremely restrained and self-imposed defense policy that sort of did not allow it to act as many other countries do on the global stage. So while there has been an incredible shift, it really should be thought of bringing Japan to a baseline that is more closely in line with what many other U.S. allies around the world do to support their own defense,” said Rapp-Hooper.

Officials also expect a focus on cooperation amid the defense industrial base, including forming a defense industrial council, the start of a pilot program to allow Japanese to repair U.S. ships in the region and a focus on intelligence and cyber efforts.

Officials previewing the visit also expected a major space agreement, expanded ties on AI research and on the economic front through commercial deals.

One topic officials have indicated is not expected to be broached is Nippon Steel’s efforts to acquire U.S. Steel, as President Biden has supported domestic ownership.

“I think people in Japan understand that this is a domestic political issue. And the Kishida government, to its credit, has not really commented on it, and probably will not comment much during the visit. But I do think it raises broader questions in Japan and Asia, about whether the United States is open to foreign direct investment from allies and partners,” said Nicholas Szechenyi, a senior fellow with the Japan chair and deputy director for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

The official visit paves the way to a trilateral summit with the Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos on Thursday.

Regional experts said it sends a signal to China about the strength of the alliances in the region. 

“And I think it sends a really strong signal to China, that the alliance network in Asia led by the United States is only going to get stronger if China maintains this assertive posture in the region,” said Szechenyi.

It comes as the Philippines has faced aggression from China in the South China Sea over disputed territory, as the U.S. has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. Leading up to the meeting, the countries and Australia conducted joint exercises.

“Well, there's no question that the United States and Japan are both very concerned about the PRC’s aggressive tactics in many areas of its foreign policy, one that we will certainly be speaking to this week as the PRC’s use of aggressive tactics in the South China Sea. And that's part of why it's important that President Marcos will also be here this week so that Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden can show their resolve and support,” Rapp-Hooper said.

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The U.S. and Japan are expected to announce work together on infrastructure in the Philippines, cooperation on digital connectivity and maritime cooperation, according to Rapp-Hooper.

“They're going to talk about how to strengthen supply chains, perhaps Philippines providing nickel, and in that way reduce over dependence on China. Might also hear, as well, cooperation on cybersecurity, is important. And this comes at a time when the Philippines and Japan have also deepened their bilateral security cooperation,” said Mireya Solís, director at the Center for Asia Policy Studies.

Beyond the Indo-Pacific, at a time of conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East, Kishida will also address Congress as U.S. funding for Ukraine defense has hung in the balance. Kishida indicated the address would be focused on the future.

“Japan has really stepped up in the last 15 years or so. Japan used to be a far more passive player, but now it has become very proactive. It brings to the table very important assets in terms of its economic and security diplomacy in the region. And at a time when quite frankly, there's a lot of uncertainty about where the US may be heading. And after the presidential election, Tokyo has decided to double down in its investment of the U.S. alliance, and that's very much what's captured in this summit,” said Solís.

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