The leaders of the United States and Japan agreed in a virtual meeting on Friday to boost cooperation on pressing economic and security issues, including China’s growing might, North Korea’s missiles and Russia’s aims in Ukraine.
The online meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was the first substantial conversation between the two since Kishida became Japan’s prime minister in October.
After the meeting, which lasted one hour and 20 minutes, Kishida said they had agreed to cooperate to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific, to work closely on China and the North Korean missile issue and on Ukraine.
“We agreed to work together to advance cooperation among like-minded countries to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kishida told reporters.
“We agreed to closely cooperate on China-related issues, including the East and South China Seas, Hong Kong, and the Xinjiang Uyghur [Autonomous Region], as well as North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues,” he added.
Kishida said he and Biden would work closely to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine and would “keep close contact with other allies and partners and continue communicating on the point that any attack will be met with strong action”.
The meeting builds on so-called “two-plus-two” discussions between the US and Japan involving defence and foreign ministers who earlier pledged to work together against efforts to destabilise the Indo-Pacific region.
Alarm over China’s growing assertiveness, tensions over Taiwan, and shared concern about Ukraine have raised Japan’s global profile on security matters, while North Korea has ramped up tensions with an unusually rapid series of missile tests.
Pyongyang, which fired tactical guided missiles this week in its latest series of tests, warned on Thursday it might rethink a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
After Friday’s meeting, President Biden tweeted a picture and hailed the US-Japan alliance as a “cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the world”.
It was an honor to meet with Prime Minister Kishida to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan Alliance — the cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the world. pic.twitter.com/ZItwL1fvY0
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 21, 2022
A readout of the meeting issued by the White House said Biden commended Kishida’s decision to increase Japan’s defence spending and the two leaders resolved to push back against China’s efforts to change the status quo in the South China Sea.
Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to abiding by the 1960 Japan-US security treaty and clarified it covers the Japanese-controlled disputed islands of Senkaku, which China refers to as Diaoyu.
In addition to discussing the Taiwan Strait and China’s practices in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and Biden applauded Japan’s security cooperation agreement with Australia, the White House said.
Earlier, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Japanese counterpart Akiba Takeo had set the agenda for the two leaders on Thursday when they spoke about their respective approaches to North Korea, China, and Ukraine, the White House said.
Biden and top aides have sought to rally NATO partners and other US allies to respond with harsh sanctions against Russia if it moves forward with military action.
Biden and Kishida discussed efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic and a list of economic matters including, emerging technology, cybersecurity, climate change and trade issues.
Prior to the meeting, Washington and Tokyo issued a joint statement on Thursday calling on all parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to help achieve “a meaningful outcome” at their next review conference.
“Japan and the United States recognize the NPT as indispensable for preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and achieving their total elimination,” the statement said.
Kishida is from the city of Hiroshima – which the US destroyed with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II – and is eager to discuss a “world without nuclear weapons”, Japanese officials have said.
‘Unstable’ security situation
The talks follow other security-related meetings involving Indo-Pacific leaders – two-plus-two talks between Japan and France on Thursday and between Australian and British foreign and defence ministers on Friday.
Japan’s defence minister said after the talks with France that the security situation in the Indo-Pacific was unstable and “getting tougher”.
Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama and now with Asia Society Policy Institute, a think-tank, said the two-plus-two meeting showed Washington and Tokyo were on the same page.
“We should expect their discussion to focus on practical measures to deter and defend against destabilising behaviour, whether from North Korea or in hot spots like the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China Seas,” he said.
China has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it claims as its own.
Messaging on China becomes all the more important, as Biden and Kishida both face elections this year — for Japan’s upper house of parliament in July and US midterm congressional elections in November.
Japan has approved record defence spending for 2022 and announced this week it would beef up its defences of islands near Taiwan.
Al Jazeera and news agencies