The vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific was repeatedly emphasized in a Japan-U.S. 2+2 joint press conference held earlier this week, where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed with their Japanese counterparts the particular threats posed by Communist China in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan is the first country visited by the two officials in their first round of Cabinet-level in-person state visits since President Joe Biden took office in January.
“We agreed on the recognition that China’s behaviour, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents various challenges to the [Japan-U.S.] alliance and the international community. We remain opposed to any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo, including in the East and South China Seas. We share serious concerns over the China coast guard law,” stated Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
Under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) command, the Chinese coast guard has continually patrolled Japan’s Senkaku Islands’ waters. These actions are a breach of international law.
“I reaffirmed my determination to protect the Japanese territory by all means, and the United States mentioned that Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands, and we were able to confirm the commitment to the defense of Japan,” said Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.
U.S. Defense Secretary Austin called the Japan-U.S. alliance a cornerstone of the U.S. strategy to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“I know Japan shares our concerns with China’s destabilizing actions, and as I have said before, China is a pacing challenge for the Department of Defense. And we know that competing in today’s shifting global dynamics can only be done through the spirit of teamwork and cooperation, which are the hallmarks of our alliance with Japan,” said Mr Austin.
U.S State Secretary Blinken also mentioned the CCP’s erosion of autonomy in Hong Kong and democracy in Taiwan as well as its abuse of human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the role of the Japan-U.S. alliance, along with the Republic of Korea, in defending the Indo-Pacific region and ensuring the wellbeing of its people.
The two nations also addressed the importance of the denuclearisation of North Korea.
The U.S. and Japan’s approach to the Communist China regime sounds encouraging. However, their attitude towards the CCP does not appear to be as strong as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump Administration.
Under the Trump administration in 2020, tens of thousands of Japanese and U.S. troops held a joint military operation in the form of an extensive island-landing exercise in the Pacific to show China the U.S. alliance with Japan against its attempted claim of Japan’s Senkaku Islands. Trump also began a trade war to squeeze Beijing. In his last days as Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo released a blazing condemnation of the CCP’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.
Trump also sent a strong message to Beijing in 2020 when he sent a U.S. Cabinet member to Taiwan and praise its democracy and its victorious Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus response.
As for the denuclearisation of North Korea, Trump seemed to handle the issue considerably well. He even invoked quite a favourable response from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The only answer to Biden’s White House from North Korea so far has been a not-so-friendly response from Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong:
“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land. If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
The Trump administration has significantly raised the bar for the Biden administration in U.S. relations with China. It will be interesting to hear the outcomes of the China-U.S. talks in Alaska next week.
These new senior U.S. officials proved they can talk the talk. Now, the real question is whether they can walk the walk. The Biden administration will reveal its proper stance towards the CCP through its actions, and the world will be watching.
U.S. Department of State. (March 16, 2021). Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi at a Joint Press Availability.