Security cooperation, China to dominate Biden's talks with Japan's Kishida

Elaine Lies and David Brunnstrom, Reuters

Posted at Jan 21 2022 02:05 AM

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TOKYO/WASHINGTON — Greater security cooperation between the United States and Japan is likely to be the focus of the first substantial talks between their leaders since Fumio Kishida became Japanese prime minister last year, amid growing concern over China's might and North Korea's missile plans.

The online meeting between US President Joe Biden and Kishida, scheduled for Friday, Washington time, will build on this month's "two-plus-two" discussions in which their defence and foreign ministers pledged to work together against efforts to destabilize the Asian region.

Deepening alarm about China's growing role in the Indo-Pacific, and growing tension over Taiwan, have put greater focus on Japan's role in security, while North Korea has ramped up the tension with an unusually rapid series of missile tests.

Pyongyang, which fired tactical guided missiles this week in its latest of a series of tests, warned on Thursday that it might rethink a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

The recent two-plus-two meeting showed both leaders were on the same wavelength regarding their nations' major challenges and urgent priorities in the region, said Daniel Russel, an analyst with the Asia Society Policy Institute.

"We should expect their discussion to focus on practical measures to deter and defend against destabilising behavior, whether from North Korea or in hotspots like the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China Seas," added Russel, who was the top US diplomat for Asia under President Barack Obama.

China has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over democratic Taiwan, an island it claims as "sacred" territory.

The allies' messaging on China becomes all the more important as both leaders face crucial elections this year, in the upper house of parliament in July for Kishida and mid-terms in November for Biden.

"As the election approaches, I think Kishida will be called upon to show a resolute stance against China, and the United States is in the same position on this," said Airo Hino, a professor of political science at Tokyo's Waseda University.

Both nations are reviewing their security strategy, with details expected to be unveiled later in the year. Japan has approved record defence spending for 2022.

Japan will be looking not just at strategy but all its defense programs, including procurement programs, its ambassador to the United States, Koji Tomita, said at a Brookings Institution event on Tuesday.

"The new review will have a much sharper focus on what's happening in the Asia-Pacific region. And I think the picture we are having in this region is increasingly troubling."

Japan will beef up its defences of islands near Taiwan, Kishida said this week, following a promise in October to revise security strategy so as to consider "all options, including possession of so-called enemy-strike capabilities".

Kishida is also likely to want to lay the foundation for a relationship with Biden so that the two can meet in person as soon as possible.

"Prime Minister Kishida must win the Upper House election," Tadashi Maeda, governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, said at an online seminar this week.

"Except (for) the meeting with President Biden, his foreign policy will be not moving so quickly and he's more focused on internal, domestic issues."

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