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U.S. expects Japan to build up defense capabilities to handle Taiwan issue

By Akiyama Shinichi


The Biden administration has left negotiations on the cost of stationing U.S. troops in Japan to working-level administrators and avoided making the matter into a political issue. This reflects the Biden administration’s focus on the Japan-U.S. alliance and contrasts with the previous administration under former President Donald Trump, who demanded a significant increase in Japan’s cost sharing.


In view of the strategic competition with China, the U.S. wants Japan to strengthen its own defense capabilities, rather than bear the cost of stationing U.S. forces. There are growing expectations in U.S. political circles about the role Japan will play in the Taiwan issue.


The Biden administration has refrained from making any significant public statements about the negotiations on the cost of stationing U.S. troops in Japan. As a result, the bilateral negotiations have received little attention from U.S. political circles or the media.


This is a complete shift from the days when former President Trump demanded a significant increase in the amount paid by allies, naming Japan and South Korea, in particular.


Behind the scenes, the Biden administration has demanded that Japan increase its costs for stationing the U.S. forces in Japan, but it did not reveal the differences of opinion with its ally, which the President regards as “America’s greatest asset.”


Jeffrey Hornung, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a U.S. think tank specializing in East Asian security, gave high marks to the latest bilateral agreement, saying, “The previous administration caused controversy by making the issue more political than necessary, but the latest bilateral agreement, including the process of negotiations, reflects the normalization of the alliance.”


The agreement, however, only covers the maintenance of U.S. forces’ operational bases in Japan. The U.S. has high expectations for its ally’s “strengthening of its defense capabilities,” which Japan pledged in the joint statement after the Japan-U.S. summit in April this year.


In addition to improving the SDF’s capabilities in areas such as outer space and missile defense, Washington is also calling on Tokyo to make a broader range of contributions in East Asia.


The U.S. is paying particular attention to how Japan will respond to the Taiwan issue, which can be seen as the front line of the U.S.-China conflict.


“[Today] we have a great threat from Communist China towards our mutual friend, Taiwan. This requires a strong and unified response from both the U.S. and Japan.” said Senator William Hagerty (Republican), the previous U.S. ambassador to Japan, during the October confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the nomination of Rahm Emanuel as the next ambassador to Japan.


Emanuel, a key Democratic, also stressed that “regional unity is built on the shoulders of the U.S.-Japan alliance,” thus expressing his hope that Japan will increase its defense spending.


During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Dec. 8, Chairman Jim Risch (Republican) referred to the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, saying, “The impact [of such an event] on Japan’s security and the Japan-U.S. alliance cannot be overemphasized.” Senator Hagerty also cited a remark made by former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo that “a Taiwan contingency is a contingency for Japan.”


“Japan’s clarifying what specific contingency measures it is considering will help deepen the partnership with the U.S,” said Hornung. “The U.S. government is also looking forward to seeing the developments in Japan’s discussions on the Taiwan issue.”

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