Kishida, Biden find much common ground in building rapport

The White House via AP
U.S. President Joe Biden meets virtually from the White House with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday in Washington.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seemed to come away from his teleconference with U.S. President Joe Biden late Friday with a sense that the two have built a personal relationship of trust, after they looked to hit it off in a lively conversation on various subjects including Kishida’s economic policy.

At a time when a stronger alliance between Japan and the United States is needed to confront challenges from China and North Korea and other global issues, it marks a good start for Kishida, who had anticipated his first full-fledged talks with Biden.

A sign that the two leaders were on the same page came when the conversation turned to Kishida’s “new form of capitalism.” Kishida outlined his theory that aims for a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution while addressing the adverse effects of capitalism, such as class and wealth disparity, to which Biden smiled and responded that it sounded as if Kishida had read his presidential campaign platform.

Biden showed a desire to further build a rapport with Kishida, saying he hopes to get a chance to continue their conversation in person. Kishida’s assertions seemed to resonate with Biden, who also attaches importance to the middle class.

Following the teleconference, Kishida told reporters, “The president expressed his strong support.”

The meeting lasted 80 minutes, 20 minutes more than originally scheduled. From the start, Biden continually brought up issues about China, which took up more than half of the conversation.

Meanwhile, the two leaders were in agreement on holding summit talks of the Quad — comprising the four democratic nations of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan — in Japan this spring. The U.S. side revealed that during a past U.S.-China summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping showed his antipathy for the Quad, requesting that the U.S. president not have it meet.

After taking office as prime minister, Kishida initially wanted his first face-to-face talks with a world leader to be with Biden, but a surge in coronavirus infections made it difficult to make the necessary arrangements.

Heading into January, it was U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel who played the key role in coordinating the schedule for the teleconference. Emanuel had served as White House Chief of Staff under President Barack Obama and is also close to Biden, who was Obama’s vice president. Diplomatic sources in both countries could not hide their surprise at his sway, with one saying: “Thanks to Emanuel’s political clout, things suddenly got moving. He’s really savvy.”

A statement released by the U.S. side following the teleconference listed areas of agreements that had a diversity normally reserved for direct in-person meetings, ranging from responses to China, security, economic cooperation, and so forth.

Still, the two leaders have domestic political issues to be concerned with, the House of Councillors election this summer for Kishida, and midterm elections in November for Biden.

Voices within both governments point out that full-fledged implementation of items agreed upon can only happen after both leaders solidify the bases of support for their administrations.