Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be the first foreign leader to visit the White House in the Biden-Harris era, representing a crucial meeting for the Indo-Pacific region.
Japan, the top American ally, was the first country to host Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the first overseas trip by the two Democratic cabinet members, sending a message of confidence and leadership for Tokyo in the region.
Tokyo also led the first virtual meeting between the QUAD leaders. Since the Trump administration, Tokyo has contributed to the joint strategy to combat the rise of the Chinese Communist Party.
Japan, a top American ally
The United States has a robust commitment to the Asian country in terms of defense. The largest American military base abroad is located in the country and Japanese companies are key allies in Washington-driven transparent technological development.
Defense of American institutions
Japan is betting on the defense of American institutions in the face of the uncertainty created by Biden’s strategy and the shadow of the Obama administration in Asia.
Back in 2012, Obama weakened U.S. credibility in Asia when he abandoned the Philippines in the face of China’s invasion of the Scarborough Shoal, where Beijing built a series of artificial islands with military fortifications.
The Scarborough Shoal region in the South China Sea, was disputed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Taiwan, but finally, in 2014, the International Court at the Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, a ruling that is unknown to China.
Initially, Tokyo asked for clarity and firmness from Biden on American decisions regarding Taiwan and the Pacific region. However, the American president demonstrated his commitment to Japan by increasing the armed force and contributing to the costs of the Marines.
The U.S. defense of the Indo-Pacific region is not the responsibility of a single party or president. Japan stands aloof from American domestic political issues, and stresses the importance of American institutions and commitments made years ago.
The safeguarding of American institutions is a narrative shared by Washington’s allies in the region. Taiwan and South Korea, for example, are betting that democratic values are the basis for relations between the countries regardless of the strategy that the American president of the day intends to adopt.
Consequently, Tokyo’s willingness to cooperate with Washington is unwavering. Japan cooperates diplomatically, politically, militarily and economically with the objectives outlined by the United States.
Japan’s diplomatic and military dynamism
Tokyo is adept at diplomatic relations with its allies, and has been successful in inviting European countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom to join in military tests in the Indo-Pacific to make Beijing uncomfortable.
It has also managed relations with Washington. On the one hand, it dealt with the Trump administration that cashed in on military support by increasing spending for troop maintenance. However, it managed such disbursement with Biden, ensuring the permanence of American troops without increasing the amount.
Tokyo is leading the coordination between Australia, India and the United States to ensure the free and open Indo-Pacific bid. At the last meeting, the leaders agreed to commit to the production of 100 million vaccines to combat COVID-19 in Asia.
Japan is also an indispensable ally of Taiwan. The two countries share a common history and culture, which enables effective communication and facilitates harmony between trade and security in the eyes of China. Taiwan’s security is crucial for Japan, which sees its territory threatened by China because of the Senkaku Islands.
With regard to South Korea, historical political differences still cause tension. Japan constantly reproaches Seoul’s weakness under pressure from China. The Japanese have been stepping up surveillance over North Korea and seek to increase military and defense power to counter any action by the communist regimes.
This dynamism is key to Biden and his multilateral strategy. Japan is a strong counter to help the United States with its interests vis-à-vis China.
Japan in the midst of China’s threat
Japan is a victim of constant incursions by the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese military vessels. It has promoted defensive measures against China, such as giving the Japanese Coast Guard a free hand to fire on Beijing vessels entering its territory.
These measures increase tension and add to the activities of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet in the Pacific. Japan is clear that defense of its territory is a priority and has challenged the United States on its commitment to build a more robust defense.
The Japanese government joined in questioning the Chinese Communist Party’s violation of human rights in Xinjiang. For their part, some Japanese companies have decided to stop imports from Xinjiang for fear of financing forced labor of religious minorities.
Prime Minister Suga’s visit to Washington on April 16, under the Biden-Harris administration, is expected to make pronouncements regarding Xinjiang and the defense of the free and open Indo-Pacific.