Amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio met in Tokyo with U.S. President Joe Biden, who visited Japan for the first time as president.
Upsetting the international order through invasion is outrageous. Such actions should not spread to the Indo-Pacific region. It is of great significance that President Biden, who is committed to supporting Ukraine, visited Japan, a neighbor of China, and showed a willingness to place the highest priority on deterrence against China.
The Japanese and American leaders criticized Russia’s invasion and confirmed that a unilateral attempt to change the status quo is impermissible anywhere in the world. They also agreed to cooperate in dealing with China, Russia, and North Korea.
Japan, U.S. urgently need to enhance deterrence against China
What is noteworthy is that President Biden clearly stated at a joint press conference held after the summit that the U.S. would get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it is attacked by China.
China does not deny the use of military force to annex Taiwan. A Taiwan contingency could become a contingency over Japan due to its geographical proximity to Taiwan. China should be prevented from going berserk.
Past U.S. administrations gave non-committal responses to a Taiwan contingency. But subtle diplomatic language falls flat on China, a great believer in power. The deterrence against China can be enhanced by the intention to defend Taiwan expressed by a U.S. president. A senior White House official explained that there is no change in policy toward Taiwan. But the President’s remarks should not be left unclarified.
In Japan, former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo says, “A Taiwan contingency is a Japanese contingency.” Kishida, cabinet members, and the ruling parties should share and spread the same recognition.
Deterring China is difficult as the nation is quickly boosting its military muscle through its economic clout. The international community should continue to strive to do so, and the Japan-U.S. alliance can be the axis of the effort. Japan and the U.S. should be aware that there has been no other time when the world has placed greater expectations on the role of the alliance than now.
It is commendable that various measures to improve deterrence [against China] were presented during the summit.
Both Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden defined “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” as “an essential element for the peace and prosperity of the international community.”
With China and North Korea in mind, the two leaders agreed that Tokyo and Washington will communicate closely at the ministerial level to strengthen “extended deterrence,” in which the U.S. uses its nuclear weapons and conventional forces to defend Japan.
China and North Korea are beefing up their nuclear capabilities, and Russia is threatening Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with nuclear weapons. The “nuclear umbrella” provided by the U.S. to Japan needs to be reviewed to determine whether it is trustworthy enough.
Japan needs to engage in discussions without sidestepping such uncomfortable issues as nuclear sharing and Japan going nuclear to protect its people. But it takes years to reach a conclusion and to take measures accordingly. Not a day can be neglected for nuclear deterrence, which is the foundation of security. It is hoped that the nuclear umbrella will be reviewed and strengthened promptly.
“Nuclear umbrella” should be reviewed
Prime Minister Kishida expressed his “determination to secure a substantial increase in the defense budget” in order to “fundamentally reinforce Japan’s defense capabilities,” and President Biden welcomed the decision. It is hoped that the prime minister will keep the promise to protect the people and maintain peace. Prime Minister Kishida should start explaining to the ruling parties and the public about the significance of nuclear deterrence, the introduction of “counterattack capabilities,” and an increase in defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP).
President Biden also indicated his intention to place importance on Asia in the economic field as well with his eyes set on China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) launched on May 23 with the participation of Japan, the U.S., and 11 other nations was proposed by the U.S. as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to which the U.S. does not intend to return.
China, which pursues regional hegemony, has joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) and applied for TPP membership. To counter this, Japan and the U.S. should play a central role in strengthening regional solidarity. Japan should be actively involved [in the IPEF].
The problem [with the IPEF] is that it does not clearly show benefits for Asian nations hoping to enter the U.S. market, because tariff reductions are not discussed under the framework. Furthermore, it is not yet known whether member nations can keep in step with each other in making high-quality rules sought by Japan and the U.S. Japan is required to serve as a bridge during discussions between the U.S. and Asia to make the framework more effective.
It is regrettable that Taiwan was not among the inaugural members. Some countries may be wary of becoming involved in the U.S.-China conflict and worried that Taiwan’s participation may worsen their relations with China. But Taiwan’s participation would further strengthen regional supply chains. Japan should lobby other nations for Taiwan’s participation.