April 08, 2024

CNAS Responds: Biden-Kishida Meeting

This week, President Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Kishida for a landmark summit. Against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific, the meeting highlights the deepening relationship between the two nations.

Today, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) experts offer their analysis on the summit's significance and possible implications for U.S.-Japan relations moving forward.

All quotes may be used with attribution. To arrange an interview, please contact Charles Horn at comms@cnas.org.

Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program:

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s visit to Washington this week will highlight the continued salience of U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific, even as two wars rage in other parts of the world, demonstrating the Biden administration’s ability to juggle multiple global crises. According to newly-appointed Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who spoke at a CNAS-hosted event last week, the visit will result in a “historic upgrade of the security alliance.” There is speculation about an announcement that would further integrate the command-and-control structure of Japanese and U.S. forces, which number 54,000 in Japan. In a recent press conference, Kishida remarked that closer military cooperation between Japan and the United States is essential, as the two countries are at a “turning point in history”—hinting at the need for joint military preparations in case of a potential future conflict in the region.

Another possible deliverable is including Japan in Pillar 2 of the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) agreement—which focuses on advanced capabilities like undersea warfare, electronic warfare, and defense applications of quantum technologies and artificial intelligence—between the United States, Australia, and the UK. While there is some concern that expanding AUKUS to other countries would complicate the agreement and slow progress, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a Wall Street Journal commentary last week that Japan was “about to become the first additional Pillar 2 partner.”

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Kishida, and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will hold their first-ever trilateral summit, sending an unmistakable signal to China that both Washington and Tokyo will stand with Manila as it faces increasing maritime aggression from Beijing in the South China Sea. Holding minilateral meetings among three or four countries has become a hallmark of the Biden administration as it seeks to build a loose network of security partnerships to fulfill its vision of a free, open, and rule-based Indo-Pacific.

Jacob Stokes, Senior Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program:

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s official visit to Washington for a summit with President Joe Biden will mark a watershed moment for the U.S.-Japan alliance. The summit comes amid a severe security environment in Northeast Asia, the wider Indo-Pacific, and indeed the world. Japan is on the front lines of China’s gray zone pressure and military assertiveness, particularly in the East China Sea. Beyond its territory, Tokyo sees how Beijing’s actions are undermining regional peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, North Korea and Russia appear to be deepening their relationship and undertaking provocative military moves.

In the face of these trends, Japan’s security strategy has three pillars: strengthening its own military capabilities, modernizing and deepening the alliance with the United States, and building out a diverse network of security partnerships. The Biden-Kishida Summit promises to deliver concrete outcomes that advance all three pillars. Each of those pillars also advances American interests and values, which is why the alliance has such a strong momentum right now.

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces—the official name of the country’s military—doing more to protect their country could free up some U.S. capabilities to operate elsewhere in the region during a contingency. A modernized U.S.-Japan alliance will be more ready and able to deter adventurism and, if necessary, fight together. And Tokyo’s efforts to build up regional security partnerships boost similar U.S. efforts to construct a latticework of like-minded allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and beyond to uphold the rules-based international security order.

The pomp and circumstance and general affinity that will be on display at the summit is genuine. But make no mistake: the primary driver of closer ties is an unprecedented convergence of geopolitical interests between the United States and Japan.

Evan Wright, Research Assistant, Indo-Pacific Security Program:

Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Washington comes at an important time for the alliance and for Prime Minister Kishida himself. For Kishida, the visit is a valuable opportunity to deepen security and economic ties with the U.S. and to prove his value as Japan’s head of state and leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which will likely hold a party presidential election this September. Amid low approval ratings for the Kishida cabinet and a fundraising scandal that continues to negatively impact the Liberal Democratic Party’s image, the visit is a prime opportunity to demonstrate Prime Minister Kishida’s effectiveness as a statesman as he meets with President Biden and addresses a joint session of Congress—the first time a Japanese Prime Minister has addressed Congress since the late prime minister Abe in 2015.

Likewise, the Biden-Kishida meeting comes at an important time for the United States-Japan-South Korea trilateral partnership. On April 10, South Korea will hold elections for all 300 seats of its National Assembly. While foreign policy does not generally require National Assembly approval, the outcome of the legislative election will likely determine South Korean President Yoon’s effectiveness for his remaining three years in office and whether he will be able to continue prioritizing the United States-Japan-South Korea trilateral partnership to the extent he has so far. Given the election’s timing with Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Washington, Kishida and Biden will have a unique opportunity to affirm their commitment to trilateral relations.

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, contact Charles Horn at comms@cnas.org.

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  • Lisa Curtis

    Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Lisa Curtis is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. She is a foreign policy and national security expert with over 20 years of service in...

  • Jacob Stokes

    Senior Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Jacob Stokes is a Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS, where his work focuses on U.S.-China relations, Chinese foreign and military policy, East Asian ...

  • Evan Wright

    Research Assistant, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Evan Wright is a Research Assistant for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. He focuses on U.S.-Indo-Pacific relations, East Asian security, and science and technology p...