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Behind the scenes of the Japan-U.S. summit over Taiwan

By Yasushi Sugimoto, Toyohiro Ichioka


The meeting between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden held in Washington, D.C., on April 16, included Taiwan in a joint statement for the first time in 52 years, keeping China in mind. How did Japan and the U.S. overcome their differences and find common ground? The Sankei Shimbun explored what happened behind the scenes.


Immediately after the summit meeting was postponed from April 9 to April 16, the Biden administration hurriedly presented a draft joint statement that went into more detail on the Taiwan issue. It was a lengthy article that expounded on the historical background and referred to the United States-Taiwan Relations Act. The law makes the use of force against Taiwan of “grave concern” to the U.S. and provides for the provision of defensive weapons to Taiwan.


“It is impossible to accept it.” Tokyo rejected Washington’s proposal. Japan does not have Taiwan-related laws in place and cannot provide Taiwan with defense equipment.


Japan did not reject the inclusion of language on Taiwan in the statement. The wording of the final agreement, “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues,” was originally proposed by the Japanese side. Seeking a peaceful solution also means opposition to unification by force. A Japanese official explained, “This is a strong message to China.”


However, Japan could not agree with wording that could be interpreted as Japan in cooperation with the U.S. would provide arms to Taiwan. Experienced “Asian professionals” in the U.S. government were aware of Japan’s position, but on the occasion of a summit, many officials are involved in the preparations. It seems that the president did not want to give the impression that he “toned down” the language on Taiwan when Biden administration senior officials referred to the Taiwan Relations Act. It was Prime Minister Suga who made a decision in a preliminary meeting. “I’ll talk to President Biden and decide the matter.” Talks were held in earnest, and an agreement was reached on the wording as proposed by the Japanese side.


A senior Japanese government official recalled that the summit meeting “arrived at mutually agreed-upon wording.” Allies, however, do not always have fully aligned strategic interests. The Biden administration’s hardline stance toward China was highlighted in a series of summit processes. There is no denying the possibility that the U.S. will press Japan to reconsider its Taiwan policy in the future.


There is also concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. As former President Trump placed much emphasis on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can reach the U.S. mainland, it tended to make light of short- and intermediate-range missiles that can reach Japan.


“We agreed to strongly urge a commitment to CVID (complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement) of ballistic missiles of all ranges,” stressed Prime Minister Suga during the joint press conference after the meeting.


However, the wording “ballistic missiles of all ranges” was left out of the joint statement. It was included in the original draft, but was cut in the process of editing it because the draft text had become too long.


The statement specified, “Obligations under UN Security Council resolutions,” which include a ban on short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The decision was made not to bother to write “ballistic missiles of all ranges.”

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