Biden, Kishida Stress Cooperation Amid Anxiety Over China

The president reaches for rhetorical extremes as he seeks to reassure that America will be a reliable ally, while the Japanese leader says his country is doing much more than previously seen to build up its own defenses.

AP/Evan Vucci
President Biden with Prime Minister Kishida at the White House January 13, 2023. AP/Evan Vucci

President Biden’s meeting Friday with Prime Minister Kishida put a smiling face on the countries’ wheeling and dealing and their resolve to stand up against China.

The tone of the Japanese leader’s first summit in the White House added bravura to previous statements of America’s “commitment” to Japan’s defense and Mr. Kishida’s outspoken expressions of anxiety. The deal-making on the diplomatic and military levels added substance to the rhetoric.

No sooner had Mr. Kishida finished telling Mr. Biden that he believed their countries faced “the most challenging and complex security environment” than his foreign minister was on his way to wrapping up a deal on outer space cooperation.

The state department said the deal, signed at NASA headquarters by Secretary Blinken and Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, “underscores the commitment of the United States and Japan to safe and responsible outer space activities in Earth’s orbit, at the Moon and beyond.” Yet it has more immediate significance: America  and Japan are committed to working hand-in-hand against Chinese and North Korean missile and nuclear threats.

Mr. Biden reached  for rhetorical extremes as he sought to reassure the Japanese that America would be a reliable ally. “To be crystal clear,” he said, America is “fully, thoroughly, completely committed to the alliance — and more important to Japan’s defense.”

Mr. Kishida in turn reassured Mr. Biden that Japan was doing much more than previously seen to build up its own defenses, setting a new ceiling on defense budgets. Mr. Kishida has said Japan would be spending up to 2 percent of its gross national product on defense, doubling the current level, within five years.

That’s welcome news to American policymakers, who have often said Japan was getting a free ride on defense by relying on the American shield in the Pacific, including its 55,000 troops in Japan and the American “nuclear umbrella.”

American planes based on the southern Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa are able to carry nuclear weapons, and American warships at Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, also carry nukes for Navy planes on board. As if to underline America’s commitment, the Pentagon plans to turn a marine regiment on Okinawa into a rapid-attack force that could move quickly if China were to invade Taiwan.

The Americans and Japanese were eager to put the happy talk into practice. On Thursday, Secretary Austin and Japan’s defense minister, Yasukaza Hamada, signed a “memorandum of understanding” on research and development of emerging defense technology, the Pentagon announced, plus a “non-binding agreement” on supply chains.

Yet what do such agreements really mean? The answer relies in part on the threat levels from China, which has been staging air and naval exercises close to Taiwan, and North Korea, which has test-fired missiles over Japan that may be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.


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