Biden’s plaudits may have been a case of premature irrational exuberance. “The praise Biden gave was more than enough for Kishida,” said an official at Japan’s Ministry of Defense. “The reality we face, however, is not optimistic. We filed the great document, made wonderful promises. But given our pacifist Constitution, sensitive public opinion and limited human resources in the arena of defense, it would be quite difficult to implement these policies in practice. At the end of the day, the US will be disappointed”.
The China dilemma
China of course has been the most obvious focus of concern of the US-Japan security alliance. Once again, Biden reiterated Washington’s unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan under Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear weapons. He also reaffirmed that Article V applies to the Senkaku Islands, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea known in China as the Diaoyu Islands. The Japanese government has consistently wanted the US to restate such unequivocal pledges.
In the so-called 2+2 meeting before the summit, the American and Japanese foreign and defense ministers “concurred that China’s foreign policy seeks to reshape the international order to its benefit and to employ China’s growing political, economic, military, and technological power to that end. This behavior is of serious concern to the Alliance and the entire international community, and represents the greatest strategic challenge in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”
This strongly-worded statement inevitably spurred a negative reaction in China. Kishida still wants some spaces to maintain workable Japan-China bilateral relations. Security concerns, however, are leaving him little room for maneuver. In November 2022, the prime minister met Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, where he expressed concerns about Chinese assertive behavior in the area of the East China Sea including military activities such as the launch of ballistic missiles into the waters near Japan. But in a January 13 speech at Johns Hopkins University during his stay in Washington, Kishida averred that Japan and China should “continue dialogue including on issues of concern and cooperating on matters of common interests. Both sides need to make efforts to build such a constructive and stable relationship.”