Biden and Kishida Romance to Counterbalance Xi

  • US President Joe Biden met his Japanese counterpart as early as May 2022.
  • The war in Ukraine has changed the regional balance.
  • The two seek to strengthen their deep ties to deter the People’s Republic of China.

Source: Nikkei Asia

Why are Biden and Kishida in Romance?

Answer: Beijing’s assertive role deepened their long-standing ties and consolidated their role in Indo-Pacific affairs.

As North Korea keeps testing its nuclear and military facilities and the People’s Republic of China sends planes into Taiwanese air defense zone,  President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have moved to coordinate an answer, deepening their bilateral security ties and within the Quad. The ongoing war in Ukraine and the parallels that can be drawn to Taiwan have reinforced the relevance of this as part of their agenda.

The two parties have found ways to foster an already well-consolidated relationship between the countries. For instance, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described US-Japanese trade ties as a “truly win-win relationship”. Former US President Donald Trump said the alliance between the US and Japan was the “cornerstone of peace” in the Pacific.

Kishida stressed the need to improve their bilateral ties with South Korea. The bitterness over the Japanese occupation of Korea and Japanese crimes during WWII has affected South Korea-Japan friendship. Nevertheless, China’s assertiveness and North Korea have greatly changed this perception. For instance, in 2021 71% of Japanese said China posed a “threat”, up from 63% in 2020.  To illustrate this change, officials from the United States, Japan and South Korea will meet in Seoul on June 3 for talks on North Korea. 

Additionally, the two are engaged in joint development projects. For example, Japan will divert some liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargoes to Europe. Most recently, US President Joe Biden announced the start of negotiations on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Unlike Chinese led RCEP, the IPEF is not for now a free-trade agreement and focuses on strengthening US collaboration with its Asian states counterparts. Within this framework, Japan is one of the founding members. 

On security, Kishida and Biden have taken part in military drills. After North Korea launched three missiles into the East Sea/Sea of Japan, the United States and Japan staged a military drill by flying eight war jets over the sea of Japan. This cooperation also extends to other formats. In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke in front of the Indian Parliament and articulated a vision for the Indo-Pacific region. Ten years later, in Manila, this idea translated into the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Consultation on the Indo-Pacific, more commonly known as the Quad. 

Most recently, during the latest Quad meeting in Tokyo, all the parties agreed towards Quad’s institutionalization. For instance, all the Quad leaders agreed that what happened in Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific. 

Another converging point was critical and emerging technologies, including space. The four countries agreed to explore ways to share space-based Earth observation data and it would allow them to aggregate links between the national satellite data generated by the Quad partners. 

At the same time, they have also launched a maritime initiative, the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Partnership (IPMDA). This plan integrates maritime data obtained via satellite for full water monitoring, especially critical on monitoring China’s naval activities.

Kishida and Biden have leveled up a harsh tone against  Russia and China and they will speed up a contingency plan as Beijing watches over these drills and keeps its eyes over Taiwan depending on the international community’s response.

What does Biden want?

Answer: Biden seeks to counter China and keep the leading role in the  semiconductor industry as the invasion of Ukraine raises questions about Taiwan’s status.

Biden, like his Japanese counterpart, is seeking to counterbalance North Korea’s nuclear arsenal as well as deterring Beijing. China has become considerably more aggressive in Taiwan, which threatens not just US core interests in the region, but also its technological leading role.

Therefore, military cooperation with Japan provides Washington with a key ally in the Asia-Pacific region. Both leaders praise for a free and open Indo-Pacific and these two states are the founding members of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a US-led regional initiative, during their first summit. In addition to that, Biden and Kishida “strongly condemned” the launch, North Korea’s first test of such a weapon in more than four years.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has engendered further angst for Kishida and Biden have some similarities for Taiwan in China. Beijing is watching and taking notes on the US and EU response to the invasion to assess opportunities it may have in Taiwan. Beijing is aware of Biden’s commitment towards Taipe and specifically, the shift of Japanese officials towards Taiwan’s security, which is driven largely by concerns over defending Okinawa.

Finally, a romance with Kishida blossoms at a time when the U.S. has been adopting a harsher tone and seeking to avoid China’s plans to dominate key areas of emerging technology. Trade between the U.S. and China is key, especially on rare earths and the increasing competition or change within Beijing regarding Taiwan, key strategic U.S. allies’ economies will be severely hampered and shifting the regional dynamics. 

Japan is a potentially critical partner for the U.S., being a founding member of the Quad and effectively becoming an alternative regional pivotal partner in the Indo-Pacific affairs.

What does Kishida want?

Answer: Kishida is seeking to counterbalance China’s military power as the invasion of Ukraine raises questions about Taiwan.

Kishida, like Biden, wants to counterbalance Chinese growth in the region. China has become considerably more assertive in the South China Sea or near Taiwan. These events not only threaten Japanese trade, but also could threaten the most crucial energy routes for East Asian countries to transport oil and natural gas from the Persian Gulf, which Japan is highly dependent on as Tokyo is the largest LNG buyer in the world.

Article 9 of Japan’s constitution prohibits the formation of a traditional military. Consequently, Tokyo has maintained only a Self Defense Force (SDF) with the sole mission of protecting the Japanese mainland. However, North Korea’s nuclear tests and especially China’s growing role had led Japan to go through a significant military modernization, which will allow Tokyo to project military power outside of the Japanese mainland.

Furthermore, in 2021, the Japanese Ministry of Defense released its annual white paper. For the first time, Japanese officials stress the pivotal role of Taiwan’s security, which is driven largely by concerns over defending Okinawa, a potential Chinese takeover over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and a nuclear North Korea. In 2021 71% of Japanese said China posed a “threat”, up from 63% in 2020. Consequently, Tokyo has deepened its commercial-trade ties with other partners, the EU, India, the US and most recently with South Korea.

These commercial partnerships have opened Japan’s new diplomatic opportunities and Washington has been a key partner in this goal. A tougher stance over China helps Kishida’s government to coordinate and ease up tensions with other Asian-Pacific states, specifically with South Korea.

In 2010, China and Japan were in the midst of a trade dispute over eight uninhabited islands in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. In order to punish Tokyo, Beijing restricted rare earth exports to Japan, which are key for Japanese manufactures. As a result, speeding up the reduction of economic dependence on China has been one of Kishida’s core goals. For instance, Japan has earmarked US$2.2 billion to help its manufacturers shift production out of China.

Tokyo is the third largest electronics manufacturing industry in the world and its domestic semiconductor market is growing. Therefore, Kishida wants to leverage this advantage. This growth presents U.S. companies with numerous opportunities, especially for those that supply chips for smartphone displays, computer server/data storage equipment and electronics. Most recently, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed on the establishment of “a joint task force to explore the development of next-generation semiconductors”.

The US is a critical partner for Japan, for building up a tougher stance on China regarding Taiwan and a key strategic ally. 

What is Kishida doing?

Answer: The Japanese Prime Minister is deepening ties with Washington to counter China and secure technological supply chains.

Kishida’s unconventional rise to power means that domestic political stability is key for his political continuity. Undoubtedly, one of his key pressure points is East Asian Security. Kishida has been one of the longest-serving Japanese foreign ministers and he reportedly formed a strong bond with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who continues to serve in the current Biden administration.

As well as Biden, Kishida upholds the promotion of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and Tokyo recognised the US’s key strategic role in its security policy, especially with growing fears of instability over China’s role over Taiwan  and the fate of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile. As a result, both countries have been conducting numerous drills. For instance, in March 2022, Japanese and U.S. Marines had their first airborne landing and combat training together near Mt. Fuji.

Furthermore, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has made evident the importance of securing supply chains, especially on semiconductors in which Taiwan plays a key role for Japanese companies. To avoid any miscalculation, in May 2022, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to bolster semiconductor manufacturing capacity and diversification, as well as collaboration on advanced battery supply chains. Thanks to the consolidation of the security apparatus between South Korea, Japan and the US, Kishida can assume a greater role in regional security dynamics that is in the best interest not only for US and Japan, but also for other powers.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Bolstering strong Japan-US ties that counters China and avoids further escalation over Taiwan will be pivotal to avoid further regional and global escalation.

Both Tokyo and Washington have had longstanding tensions with Beijing. For instance, in October 2020, the US and Japanese troops conducted a tremendous Island-landing exercise in the Pacific, known as the ‘Keen Sword 21’ conducted in the Okinawa prefecture and close to the disputed Senkaku Islands with Beijing. This has exacerbated a long-standing territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Most recently, Japanese and U.S. forces have conducted a joint fighter jet flight over the Sea of Japan, in an apparent response to a Russia-China joint bomber flight. 

The ability of Biden and Kishida to take countermeasures has been calculated by their important trade ties with China and sought to move key industries outside of Beijing towards Vietnam and other states. For example, Apple is reportedly planning on moving some iPad production out of China and into Vietnam for the very first time. Japan has earmarked US$2.2 billion to help its manufacturers shift production out of China. The Japanese company, Hoya Corporation, which produces hard-drive components, is expected to move to both Vietnam and Laos from China. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised concern about what that might mean for the future state of Taiwan, which will likely be a cornerstone of Biden’s and Kishida plans. The current status quo and the regional peace are very fragile, and Beijing’s next steps and policies regarding Taiwan at the same moment as the current invasion of Ukraine add an extra layer of caution. As a result, the Japan and US partnership will be pivotal to counter China and North Korea.

Semiconductors will define whether the current status quo remains unchanged or not. As time passes and fractionated interests become more latent in the Asia-Pacific region, the cost and the impact of any mistake increases. As a result, growing ties between Japan and the US will be key to the balance of power in the region.