U.S. focus on Indo-Pacific region welcomed

The focus on the Indo-Pacific region under the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been welcomed by the Japanese government, as the U.S. deterrence is indispensable for Japan to confront the growing threat of China over the Senkaku Islands and other issues.

Tokyo has lobbied Washington, aiming to hold the first in-person summit meeting with Biden.

Regarding Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s planned visit to the United States, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Friday said, “We would like to think of it as a welcome sign of the Biden administration’s strong commitment to strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

The Suga Cabinet is under pressure due to a series of delayed responses to the coronavirus pandemic and an expanding graft scandal involving senior officials of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

The government and ruling parties hope “special treatment” from the U.S. president will be a “clear diplomatic achievement that could boost the administration,” according to a senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

However, the benefit of the Japan-U.S. alliance is not the only issue, Japan will also be asked what kind of contribution it can make to the U.S. as it confronts China’s growing power.

The enactment of security legislation under the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made it possible for Japan to exercise a limited form of collective self-defense.

However, there are indications within the government that Suga has not sufficiently formulated an overall picture of his diplomatic strategy or concrete measures to deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

To strengthen the deterrence against ballistic missile attacks, Abe initiated discussions on missile interdiction, including the possibility of possessing capabilities to strike enemy bases.

The matter was passed over to Suga, but his Cabinet has done little to advance discussions and the issue has effectively been shelved.

“The Cabinet has stopped sending out messages on diplomacy and security. If Biden’s diplomacy starts in earnest, I’m not sure we’ll be able to handle it,” said an LDP official.

The first test will be whether a new strategy to strengthen the alliance can be forged at the so-called two-plus-two talks between Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers scheduled for Tuesday.