Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting on Jan. 21 and agreed to underscore the Japan-U.S. alliance and bolster bilateral collaboration amid growing tensions in the international community. Concrete paths toward those objectives, however, have yet to be specified.
Both leaders issued a warning to Russia as it threatens Ukraine by mobilizing troops near its border, and strongly condemned North Korea for hinting at resuming nuclear weapons tests.
The two leaders went a step further with their counterapproach to China, and agreed to set up a framework for bilateral foreign and economic ministerial talks on economic security.
It is imperative for Tokyo to counter emerging threats by closely cooperating with Washington. But the question is, what role is Japan going to play amid these circumstances?
There are several points of concern.
The focus of economic security talks will be on reinforcing investments in advanced technology and supply chains, as well as export regulations on civilian technology that can be diverted for weapons use. It is not easy, however, to discern where to draw the line between technology that can be diverted to military use and other technology. We cannot rule out the possibility that Japan's free economic activities may be hindered by the U.S. at the latter's convenience.
Tokyo and Washington recently reached an agreement over broad military cooperation, including considering Japan's acquisition of enemy base strike capabilities and countering China's hypersonic weapons technology.
Prime Minister Kishida reaffirmed the bilateral accord without providing an explanation to the Japanese public or exhausting Diet discussions. His stance on cooperation with Washington appears hasty.
While Japan and the U.S. are both wary of China, not all of the two countries' national interests are shared. Efforts to forge diplomacy that prevents tensions from developing into conflict are essential.
Tokyo may well paint a picture of regional stability and share it with Washington at times. But we have yet to see what Japan's own strategy is.
Prime Minister Kishida has vowed to "get the U.S. to make a move" on nuclear disarmament. In order to abolish nuclear weapons, it is necessary to reduce the number of warheads without producing new ones. Kishida ought to urge Washington to demonstrate its resolve toward that end.
The Japan-U.S. alliance would not be viable without mutual trust between people in both countries. While alleviating the burden on Okinawa Prefecture, where U.S. military bases are concentrated, is a pressing issue, Prime Minister Kishida has made no attempt to address the matter.
Controversy over the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also in the prefecture, will not be resolved just by following policies adopted by the previous administrations. It is also necessary for Tokyo to formulate comprehensive plans for curtailing Okinawa's burden of hosting bases and urge Washington to work together toward that goal.
President Biden is scheduled to visit Japan as early as spring 2022. In order to boost confidence in the Japan-U.S. alliance, Kishida is urged to convey what Tokyo has to say to Washington.