Biden, Kishida vow to ‘further deepen’ U.S.-Japanese ties to counter Indo-Pacific threats

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Jan. 13 (UPI) — U.S. President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House Friday to “further deepen” U.S.-Japanese ties, according to the White House.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when we were closer,” Biden told Kishida as they sat in the Oval Office with media looking on.

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“As we enter the new year of 2023, I am pleased to make my first visit to Washington, D.C., as prime minister and to have this meeting with you, Joe, my dear friend,” said Kishida.

The meeting comes after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted so-called 2+2 talks Wednesday at the State Department with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukasu, during which they also reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan alliance.

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Following Wednesday’s meeting, the U.S. and Japanese leaders announced a series of initiatives to strengthen their “cornerstone” alliance to keep the Indo-Pacific “free and open.”

The strategy changes were outlined in a December “National Security Strategy of Japan” document.

“The free, open, and stable international order, which expanded worldwide in the post-Cold War era, is now at stake with serious challenges amidst historical changes in power balances and intensifying geopolitical competitions,” the document said.

“Guided by their own historical views and values, some nations, not sharing universal values, are making attempts to revise the existing international order,” the document continues.

As a result of emerging threats, Japan said in the document that it must reinforce its defense capabilities. Japan is increasing defense spending over the next five years to $313 billion to protect against threats from China, North Korea and Russia.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Kishida also met with French, Italian, Canadian and British leaders this month “to further collaboration between like-minded countries by deepening security cooperation with these countries which have been strengthening interest and engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”

Kishida has faced cabinet reshuffles and tanking poll numbers at home in recent months. Meanwhile, Japan is dealing with brewing hostility from China over the Senkaku Islands, which Japan controls but China claims.

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Japan is also worried about China’s increasingly hostile attitude towards Taiwan. In August, China launched a series of ballistic missiles at the area near Taiwan, five of which landed in the exclusive economic zone in the waters off of Japan.

“We emphasize that our basic positions on Taiwan remain unchanged, and reiterate the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” reads the text of a joint statement released by the White House after the meeting.

Japan is also concerned about North Korea’s ballistic missile program. In December, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.

Japan has made military policy changes to strengthen its security, loosening some of the post-World War II limits on its military. Additionally, the United States and Japan are planning to increase the mobility of Marines stationed on Okinawa, so they can more quickly respond to potential threats.

Kishida has vowed to double Japan’s defense budget from 1% of the Gross Domestic Product to 2% by 2027. Japan and the United States have also announced plans to upgrade Japan’s military preparedness. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III confirmed that Japan was looking to improve its “counterstrike capabilities.”

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