16.04.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On some results of the state visit by the Japanese Prime Minister to the United States

The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid a state visit to the US from April 8 to 14

The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid a state visit to the US from April 8 to 14, accompanied by the Japanese Foreign Minister and Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The official part of the visit included three events: talks with President Joe Biden, a “state dinner” and a guest address to Congress.

Other, unofficial events included lunches with exchanges of gifts, the planting of typical Japanese “sakura” trees and tending to specimens planted in previous years, and various other symbols of the two countries’ mutual appreciation. In addition, this tour – the longest ever visit by the leader of a key US ally in the Indo-Pacific region – included a number of business-related events.

This very important visit had three main focuses, all related to each other. These were the comprehensive strengthening of allied relations between the US and Japan, the boosting of Japan’s role in all regional processes, and the formation of a road map to create a regional military and political alliance.

Readers will recall the preparatory work in all these areas carried out by the new First Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who had visited Tokyo two weeks earlier. His appointment to this very important position testifies to the increasingly official nature of a long-standing policy – Washington’s ongoing reorientation of its key foreign policy interests towards the Indo-Pacific region.

The day before Fumio Kishida’s arrival in the US, the defense ministers of the AUKUS member states participated in a meeting, which resulted in the adoption of a Joint Statement consisting of a preamble and two chapters. The first of these chapters is entirely devoted to addressing the issue of equipping the Australian Navy with nuclear-powered submarines, which was the original reason for the formation of AUKUS.

The second chapter deals with measures to develop promising military technologies, and the paragraph “Engaging close partners and allies” mentions only one country – Japan. Canada’s claim to a role, as yet unclear, in AUKUS, recently voiced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is not reflected in this document. As has already been mentioned, the document focuses entirely on issues related to military technology.

Political considerations relating to involvement in the situation in the Indo-Pacific region were outside the purview of the defense ministers, but certainly fell within the scope of the meeting between the Japanese and US leaders in Washington. Biden and Fushida were soon joined by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

In short, we can conclude that it is still too early for AUKUS to expand into a regional military and political bloc. But the fully-fledged military and political alliance between the US and Japan, which, in its current form, has been in place since 1960 is getting a second wind, so to speak. The extensive Joint Statement adopted following the talks between Joe Biden and Fumio Kishida sets out a wide range of measures to strengthen this alliance.

For both “global partners” (a rather surprising turn of phrase, which is used by the authors of the document), the main reason for their measures can be summed up in one word, “China.” A country which Washington and Tokyo intend to confront in all areas, and in relation to all aspects of the unfolding situation in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US-Japanese alliance is thus, it appears, intended to serve as a political, military and economic axis of a future “Asian NATO,” with other countries to be “threaded” on the line like beads on a string at a later date. As noted above, the role of AUKUS will, for the time being, be limited to generating new defense technologies to serve the new alliance.

The process of “threading” new countries onto the string was underlined by the inclusion of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the negotiations between the two “global partners.” The now trilateral summit adopted its own Joint Statement along broadly similar lines to the one mentioned above, but focusing on the escalating situation in the South China Sea.

The “threading” process will also continue with another trilateral summit (scheduled for late May this year), in which the US and Japanese leaders will be joined by South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol. However, Yoon Seok-yeol’s position is likely to be severely shaken within South Korea, as the party bloc supporting him was defeated in the April 11 parliamentary elections.

As for the “unofficial-business” part of Fumio Kishida’s visit, it relates to the USA’s status as one of Japan’s main business partners in terms of trade, the provision of services and large-scale mutual investments. In a noteworthy speech to Congress, Fumio Kishida claimed that Japan had invested some $800 billion in the US economy, “creating almost one million American jobs.”

However, he did not deem it necessary to mention that this bilateral trade invariably ends with a positive balance for Japan, amounting to some $70 billion a year. This issue, by the way, was the reason for former President Donald Trump’s criticism of Kishida’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

The current American president is adopting a different course. Nevertheless, even he is reportedly unhappy about the prospect of Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp. buying the US Steel Corp. The US Steel Corp. has gone bankrupt, and one would have thought the US would be happy for someone to step in and rescue it. Especially since there have already been similar precedents, for example Toshiba’s buyout of the bankrupt Westinghouse. However, nothing good came out of that buyout, as Toshiba failed to save the acquired company but instead got burned itself.

As for US Steel, this company is regarded in the USA as a symbol of the nation’s industrial progress and Americans rather irrationally resent the idea of it being managed by “foreigners,” even when those foreigners are Japanese, whom the US generally views positively. Apparently, Fumio Kishida (among others) has helped to heal the emotional wounds inflicted on its key ally.

He also had very productive (in the literal sense of the word) conversations with other US business leaders, including from Microsoft. While in the US Fumio Kishida promoted the interests of Toyota, a symbol of Japanese economic success.

One important goal of his trip to the United States, the longest ever by a Japanese leader, was apparently to “assess on site” the domestic political situation of its key ally, which has already entered the pre-election period. Especially in view of the very likely prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the presidency, an eventuality that has been viewed in Japan with no less trepidation than in Europe.

Some of the former officials in the Trump administration have attempted to dispel these fears. People like Alexander Gray, for example, who was interviewed by Kyodo News a few days before Fumio Kishida left for the United States. During the Japanese leader’s visit, William Hagerty, former ambassador to Japan and now a member of the US Senate, expressed optimism about the prospects for bilateral relations if Donald Trump returns to power in an interview with the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. Both of them focused in their comments on the “Chinese factor,” which Alexander Gray assessed as “the biggest threat to national security.”

Moreover, it is increasingly evident that the US rates the importance of its European and Asian allies to its national interests very differently. This, as mentioned above, is due to the general shift in the focus of US foreign policy from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region and the increasing relevance of the “Chinese factor.” And with that factor in mind, Washington is particularly aware of the importance not only of maintaining but also of further strengthening ties with Japan, its key Asian ally.

Finally, we note that Joe Biden and Fumio Kishida, both of whom face challenges in their own countries, clearly took advantage of this significant foreign policy event to strengthen their domestic positions.

Joe Biden faces the difficult task of securing his election for a second term as president. Fumio Kishida, too, is haunted by a corruption scandal within the ruling Liberal Democratic party, which has been dragging on for several months. Meanwhile, Japan is due to hold its next general election next fall. Unless the incumbent Prime Minister decides to hold it early.

At this point one final general remark should be added, which is that any “simple” ambitious plans inevitably fail to take into account all the “potholes” (especially the hidden ones), which need to be overcome in order to achieve the desired goal. This is especially true at the moment, when radical changes are under way in the world order.

Nevertheless, one very significant trend in the nature of such changes is quite clear. It boils down, as already noted, to a dramatic increase in Japan’s role in Indo-Pacific affairs. This was made clear during Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the United States.


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

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