TOKYO — Japan’s foreign minister called for the U.S. to support stability in the Indo-Pacific region by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), following China’s recent move to enter the trade pact.
“It’s important for the U.S. to be engaged in creating regional economic order, including by returning to [the negotiating table for] the TPP,” Toshimitsu Motegi said in a video message shown on Saturday at the Mount Fuji Dialogue, an event hosted by the Japan Center for Economic Research and the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
That comes after China and Taiwan applied to join the CPTPP in September. While the U.S. initially played a central role in forming the bloc, Washington under former President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2017.
Motegi’s remark echoed a message from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida earlier in the day saying the Japan-U.S. alliance is the “cornerstone” of international peace and prosperity. Motegi also emphasized that the leaders of Japan, the U.S., Australia and India are committed to their “Quad” defense pact, and that Tokyo will “strongly promote concrete cooperation with others including ASEAN and Europe in the future.”
Regarding its stance on China, Motegi said Japan “will not give up basic values and principles such as democracy, the rule of law and free trade,” while working with Beijing “in fields where we can cooperate.”
“It is important to encourage China to fulfill its responsibilities as a major power,” Motegi added. He urged the international community to keep watching whether projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative will be “implemented in a manner that meets international standards, with openness, transparency, economic efficiency in terms of life cycle costs, and debt sustainability.”
However, Motegi criticized China for benefiting from its developing country status in areas such as climate change, the World Trade Organization and development finance. “We must correct the distorted structure in which the international community keeps supporting the development of China, which is now the world’s second-largest economy,” he said.
Raymond Greene, the U.S. interim ambassador to Tokyo, said in a video message that Washington expects “China’s nonmarket trade practices and use of economic coercion that cause harm to workers and businesses around the world to factor into any evaluation of its potential for accession [to CPTPP].”
But Greene expressed support for Taiwan joining the CPTPP. “Taiwan’s record as a responsible member of the WTO and its strong embrace of democratic values should also be taken into consideration.” He didn’t comment on whether the U.S. would reconsider joining the pact.
Panelists attended the annual event both in-person and virtually, with geopolitical tensions in places ranging from the Taiwan Strait to the broader Indo-Pacific coming under the spotlight.
Daniel Russel, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that “deterrence” and “reassurance” would be key in restraining China in the Taiwan Strait. Beijing must be convinced that countries such as Japan and the U.S. have the capability and “the political will to resist aggression and to impose very high costs” if China uses force against Taiwan, he said.
Russel, now vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said that, in order to avoid a devastating military conflict, the U.S. and Japan should reassure Beijing that the window is not closed on the “One China” policy. Preventing Taiwan from declaring independence is more important to Chinese President Xi Jinping than unifying with Taiwan, he said.
Meanwhile, Katsutoshi Kawano, a former chief of staff and joint staff in Japan’s Self Defense Forces, talked about U.S. intermediate-range missiles as a potential deterrence to China. “Japan and the U.S. should jointly operate an intermediate-range missile,” Kawano said. “Japan is inevitably coming to the forefront of world security as the U.S. has designated China as its greatest threat,” he added.
During the recent race to lead Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, candidates were divided over whether the country should host U.S. missiles.
In a panel, Randall Schriver, former assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said that the alliance between Tokyo and Washington is currently “really the most important partnership in the Indo-Pacific region,” even compared to the Quad and the recently announced AUKUS alliance between the U.S., U.K. and Australia. “Even more so given growing difficulties in the Taiwan Strait,” he added.
Schriver said that the Quad and AUKUS “would not add value in an operational way” in the near term. Rather, they will work down the line along with diplomatic efforts by governments in the region. “The headlines right now are dominated by AUKUS and Quad, but we should forget [them],” he said. “The priority work is still really with the modernization of our alliance.”