The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been spending months strengthening the alliance with Japan amid efforts to counter China’s assertiveness, with Suga becoming the first foreign leader invited to the White House for talks with Biden in April.
The United States and Japan have also been working together under the Quad group involving two other major Indo-Pacific democracies, namely Australia and India, which was widely seen as a counterweight against China’s growing clout in the region.
James Schoff, an expert on U.S.-Japan relations, expressed his disappointment over Suga’s abrupt decision not to run for re-election as leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 29, which means he will step down as prime minister.
“The Japanese government will have to start over with the Biden administration, which is a little disappointing, frankly,” said the senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.
But he played down the possible impact on bilateral relations, as the development came less than one year into the Biden presidency. “I suppose it’s manageable at this early stage in the Biden term,” he added.
While Suga’s intention to resign came as a surprise, Schoff said that it had become “an increasingly more feasible outcome” as the Japanese leader was struggling with a sagging approval rate amid mounting criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.