Japan-U.S. alliance ‘cornerstone of peace and prosperity’ in Indo-Pacific
Japan and the United States are reaffirming their already resolute 70-year alliance with a new deal on stationing U.S. Armed Forces in Japan, leadership-level talks and bilateral military exercises to bolster Indo-Pacific stability.
“We want to maintain close cooperation with the United States to strengthen our alliance’s deterrence and ability to respond” to challenges, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo in late February 2021 as the nations agreed to extend their defense cost-sharing agreement for a year, Kyodo News reported.
Japan will contribute 201.7 billion yen (U.S. $1.9 billion) during the fiscal year beginning April 2021 to the cost of hosting about 55,000 U.S. military personnel. The nations will continue negotiating a multiyear deal for 2022 and beyond, according to the Japanese news agency.
The agreement comes just weeks into the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and follows top-level contacts, including a late January call between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. Austin reiterated U.S. commitment to the alliance and emphasized its importance to regional peace, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The defense leaders also discussed Indo-Pacific security challenges, including the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) aggressive maritime activities near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Austin affirmed that the islands, which the PRC claims as its territory, are covered by the Japan-U.S. security treaty and that the U.S. opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, the Pentagon said.
In a call days later, President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga described their nations’ alliance as “the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” according to the White House.
Both nations, along with Australia and India, are members of the Quad, an informal grouping of democracies considered a counterweight to the PRC’s belligerence. During a virtual Quad meeting in mid-February 2021, the four nations’ top diplomats discussed counterterrorism, disinformation, maritime security and the recent military coup in Burma, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. They also pledged to “strengthen cooperation on advancing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region, including support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity.”
Japan was a leading proponent of the concept of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and remains “a stalwart of the liberal, rules-based international order,” noted a February 24, 2021, article in Foreign Affairs magazine. It “has proved not only a reliable partner to the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific but an architect of the region’s emerging liberal order,” Chang Che wrote.
That’s reflected in regional attitudes toward the island nation. In a November 2019 survey conducted for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 92% of respondents in the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations rated Japan’s contribution to Indo-Pacific peace and stability and international order as “very valuable” or “valuable.” That was a nearly 10-percentage-point increase over the previous survey in 2017.
The Japan-U.S. alliance saw military personnel participate in joint exercises in February, including Resilient Shield 2021, which was held at Yokosuka, Japan, and other regional command centers. The computer-based exercise focused on ballistic-missile defense and enhancing the integrated operational capabilities of the nation’s Armed Forces, according to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and U.S. Navy, joined by the French Navy, also conducted a replenishment-at-sea exercise in the Pacific Ocean in mid-February, days before the Japan and U.S. coast guards exercised jointly near Japan’s Ogasawara Islands in the Philippine Sea. Coast Guard vessels, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles practiced interdicting foreign vessels operating illegally inside Japanese waters. (Pictured: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball, left, and Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel Akitsushima conduct exercises near Japan’s Ogasawara Islands in February 2021.)
“This exercise reaffirms our long-standing alliance and assures our two Coast Guards operate seamlessly together,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area, said in a statement. “Together we are committed to safeguarding mariners at sea, preventing destructive illegal fishing and smuggling, and promoting a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
IMAGE CREDIT: PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS RYAN FISHER/U.S. COAST GUARD