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U.S.-Japan summit highlights resolve of ‘steadfast alliances’ in securing Free and Open Indo-Pacific

U.S.-Japan summit highlights resolve of ‘steadfast alliances’ in securing Free and Open Indo-Pacific


Seven decades after it was forged, the “unwavering” alliance between Japan and the United States endures as “a cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world,” the nations’ leaders said during their April 2021 summit.

Highlighting the relationship’s importance, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was the first foreign leader to visit U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House since the latter’s inauguration in January 2021.

“The United States is Japan’s best friend,” Suga told reporters after the April 16 meeting, according to a White House transcript. “Japan and the U.S. are allies that share universal values, such as freedom, democracy and human rights. Our alliance has served its role as the foundation of peace and stability for the Indo-Pacific region and the world.” (Pictured: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a news conference outside the White House following their summit April 16, 2021.)

The meeting encompassed a range of topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, technological innovation, North Korean denuclearization, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) aggressive activities in the East and South China seas and Taiwan Strait, and the PRC’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region. “Japan and the United States are two strong democracies in the region, and we’re committed — we’re committed — to defending and advancing our shared values, including human rights and the rule of law,” President Biden said.

Coming amid growing unease across the Indo-Pacific over the PRC’s destabilizing behavior, the meeting served as a robust rejection of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) expansionism. The joint statement issued after the summit “is nothing less than a complete re-imagining of the U.S.-Japan partnership for a new era,” Tobias Harris, senior fellow for Asia at the Center for American Progress, wrote in an April 20 commentary for The Japan Times newspaper.

“Most importantly, for the first time, the two governments explicitly identified China as the preeminent challenge facing their alliance,” Harris wrote. “Whereas past statements had alluded to maritime security threats and the need to uphold a rules-based international order, the new joint statement called out China by name, enumerating ‘activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order.’”

The summit capped a series of interactions by top officials from the two longtime allies, including a March 2021 visit to Japan by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for meetings with Suga, Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.

Days before the White House summit, Kishi met in Tokyo with Adm. Philip Davidson, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), where they agreed to deepen security ties to counter the PRC’s maritime assertiveness. That was followed 24 hours later by a video teleconference between Japan Chief of Staff Adm. Hiroshi Yamamura and U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday to discuss interoperability and deterrence, according to USINDOPACOM. Both navies participated in the La Perouse 2021 exercise in the Indian Ocean in April 2021, which also included the navies of Australia, France and India.

In addition to the PRC’s building of military fortifications on reclaimed land in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) announced in mid-April that it would hold a joint drill in Japan with the French Army and U.S. Marine Corps, possibly by May 2021, The Japan Times reported. The JGSDF also said it will conduct nationwide exercises involving all its units to bolster deterrence, the first such drills since 1993, according to the newspaper.

Japan’s increased military readiness activities reflect national public opinion, according to a recent Ministry of Foreign Affairs survey. Nearly 70% of respondents called for the government to take a strong stance against Chinese incursions in Japan’s territorial waters, The Japan Times reported.

Suga and President Biden left no doubt as to the resolve of “steadfast alliances” in ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific for generations to come.

“Together, we will ensure that our security relationship is steadfast, despite challenges to our regional vision; that our partnership fuels a sustainable global economic recovery, after a year of global grief and hardship; and that we cooperate with like-minded partners around the world to lead a rules-based international order, despite challenges to its freedom and openness,” the leaders’ statement said.