23.04.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the Japanese Prime Minister’s Trip to the US


Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the United States on April 16-17 this year and his talks with President Joe Biden were quite remarkable for a number of reasons. The main results of this event are outlined in the Joint Statement published on the White House website.

The document consists of a preamble and three named sections. At the outset, it should be noted that, as before, the final version of the bilateral military-political alliance signed in 1960 is characterized in the strongest terms. In this case, to the traditional characterization (“cornerstone”) of the 1960 Security Agreement is added the definition of “unwavering and more ready than ever to respond to challenges in the region”.

With regard to defense and security (bilaterally and on the IPR scale), everything that was written in earlier documents is essentially reproduced. In particular, the main provisions of the outcome document signed at the US-Japan meeting in the “2+2” format, which took place a month earlier, were transferred almost unchanged to the Joint Statement.

Of particular interest was the entry concerning the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, one of those few “reference points” of the IPR, the situation around which quite accurately reflects the political and strategic aspects of the entire regional game, as well as the political course of the United States. A particularly careful choice of words in this specific section of the text seems undoubtedly appropriate to Washington’s strategy of “acting according to the circumstances,” without overly binding itself with the threat of engaging in “unnecessary” conflicts.

On the one hand, all US obligations to Japan under the 1960 Security Treaty are “extended” to these islands. Yet at the same time their actual status is defined by the term “Japan’s administration”, that is, the question of the legitimate owner of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is bypassed by Washington. This, however, is also the case with Taiwan, as well as the island archipelagos in the South China Sea.

A thick shadow is cast over the entire document by the factor of China becoming the main geopolitical opponent of the United States. A large paragraph (in the section “Alliance: Forging the Freedom and Openness of IPR”) is devoted particularly to China, listing already established grievances against Beijing. Not only relating to China’s behavior in the international arena (mainly in the adjacent water area), but also to the domestic political situation (primarily in Xinjiang UAR and Hong Kong).

It is all the more remarkable that along with the thesis that it intends to contain China (in order to “maintain peace and stability in the region”), it expresses the desire to conduct a “frank dialogue with it in areas of common interest”.

Overall, the “China” section of the Joint Statement leaves the impression of a transitional state in which the policies of the new US administration continue to be in place.

Not forgotten was the now major anti-Chinese Quad project, also involving India and Australia, which was said to serve the same “freedom, openness, accessibility, diversity and prosperity” in the IPR.

The parties also “agreed that trilateral cooperation involving the Republic of Korea plays an exceptional role in ensuring joint security and prosperity”. Note only that such “consent” has been expressed for at least 20 years with virtually zero result. For reasons whose complex (and vague) nature has been discussed more than once in the NEO. Of course, the DPRK is also mentioned, mainly in connection with its “nuclear missile program”.

The document “strongly condemns military and police violence against the citizens” of Myanmar and demands “an immediate return to democracy”.

Finally, note that the leaders of the countries that hold the first and third positions in the world economy were the ones negotiating in Washington. Meanwhile, its long-standing problems, sharply exacerbated by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, are almost the main motive of the current stage of the “Great World Game”.

Which, generally speaking, can be a good thing for optimists: the “global community,” which is on a path of continuous degradation, is still concerned about the state of the global economy and is not yet ready to engage in another mutual massacre in the struggle for the particular piece of bread and a sip of clean water.

Meanwhile, this latter problem is (almost literally) becoming increasingly urgent for the majority of humanity, concentrated in the so-called “third world”. And Beijing’s successes in the foreign policy arena, which today (for some reason) serve as the main source of headaches in Washington, are largely due to the fact that China, which has solved the problem of poverty in its country of one and a half billion, not only shares its experience with the “third world”, but also provides it with quite real assistance in overcoming similar problems.

Once again, the rapidly advancing “military” component of China’s national power continues to play a very auxiliary role in its foreign policy achievements. Which is quite consistent with its ancient designation of the Ultima ratio. This tool is ever only rattled on occasions that are regarded in Beijing as vitally crucial. This is considered to be mainly a Taiwanese issue.

The constant reminder of the presence of military force (which is remarkably mainly done by the self-professed experts of propaganda) may mean a deficit in the available arsenal of other tools. Again, extremely necessary today for successful functioning in the international arena. Which, again, is by no means true of China, whose variety of arsenal appears to be fairly adequate.

Let’s give credit to the new American administration, who finally realized that it is absolutely not enough in the competition with the main geopolitical opponent to oppose it with the threat of forming military-political blocs in the IPR (in the author’s opinion, the case is mostly hopeless). With further mental progress in Washington, it may come to the realization (what if!) that the search for alternatives to the Chinese global concept of the “Community of One Destiny” with its “material” embodiment of the Belt and Road Initiative is unnecessary at all.

The only “threat” coming from it can be seen only by supporters of the notorious “world leadership” of the United States, that is, the fake category, not a small number of which have been produced by various kinds of American “smart tanks”.

As soon as this realization comes, it will immediately become clear that it is easier and much more profitable to join the BRI. Or jointly refine the “Chinese” project to an acceptable variant for the new participants. The author would like to emphasize that such a solution would be particularly beneficial to the main target of BRI implementation in the form of the same “third countries”.

However, his possible “democratic” alternative is not explicitly mentioned in the Joint Statement under discussion. But two weeks before Suga’s trip to the US, there was talk in Japan about the possibility of forming some kind of “infrastructure” project in the context of competition with the Chinese BRI.

In this regard, a special “insert” in the Joint Statement on the US-Japan Competitiveness and Resilience (CoRe) Partnership was rather noteworthy. In particular, it talks about US-Japanese cooperation for the development and dissemination of advanced technology in the world. Such as the next (“after the 5G generation”) communications systems, which are expected to cost $4.5 billion to develop.

The same theme of competition with China incorporates both the problems of combating the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic, the development and distribution of vaccines against it, and a diverse set of problems in connection with “climate change”.

That is, the prospect of forming an “alternative-democratic BRI” apparently (still) comes to the forefront of the struggle with the PRC. Which, however, can be considered (from the perspective of the same optimists) a positive trend compared to the attempts to form an anti-Chinese military-political “Asian NATO”. Let’s hope for further, mentioned above, mental progress in Washington and Tokyo.

Yet, the ritual “dances with (military) tambourines” were also performed during the discussed visit of the Prime Minister of Japan to the United States. Apparently, so as not to particularly annoy (for the time being) the suspicious and resentful “spirits of war”.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.