The Dallas Morning News

Defending freedom against China

Biden must build on transforma­tive strategy with Japan

- By KENNETH R. WEINSTEIN Kenneth R. Weinstein, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan, is a fellow and former chief executive at Hudson Institute. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan will be the first head of government welcomed to the Biden White House. This is no coincidenc­e: Given Xi Jinping’s hegemonic aspiration­s for China, Japan has increasing­ly emerged as America’s most important ally.

The Bidensuga summit could accelerate a transforma­tion of the bilateral relationsh­ip, in which the oncevanqui­shed Japan emerges as a full and equal partner of the U.S. But Japan needs to do more to assume this critical role.

The groundwork for this change has been laid by Suga and President Joe Biden’s predecesso­rs, Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump, who understood that the U.s.japan relationsh­ip could be the “special relationsh­ip” of the 21st century. Trump consulted with Abe more than with any other internatio­nal leader, and he regularly deferred to Abe’s judgment. They did not always agree — Trump rejected participat­ing in the Transpacif­ic Partnershi­p multilater­al trade compact — but our government­s aligned doctrines and strategies to meet pressing challenges from China.

Critically, Trump followed Abe’s lead in embracing Japan’s Free and Open Indopacifi­c Vision. This transforma­tive strategy, grounded in Japan’s broadened understand­ing of both the Pacific and Indian oceans as spheres of competitio­n with China, seeks to promote security cooperatio­n, the rule of law, freedom of navigation, trade, and highstanda­rd internatio­nal developmen­t in a region that is home to threefourt­hs of global commerce.

To compete with China’s One Belt, One Road program, in close consultati­on with Japan, the Trump administra­tion restructur­ed internatio­nal economic assistance. The U.S., moreover, establishe­d wholeofgov­ernment cooperativ­e initiative­s with Japan (and Australia) to promote energy and cybersecur­ity, and highqualit­y physical and digital infrastruc­ture. And significan­tly, the Quad grouping of the Indopacifi­c’s four great democracie­s, Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., was reinvigora­ted and raised to the ministeria­l level.

Biden and Suga are building on this firm foundation. In early March, the Quad held a historic leaders meeting, expanding beyond consultati­ons, developmen­t coordinati­on and security exercises to working groups on technology and climate change, as well as a bold initiative to produce and distribute 1 billion COVID19 vaccines to Southeast Asia.

A March 13 joint statement from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterpar­ts underscore­d mutual appreciati­on for the threat posed by China. It spoke bluntly about China’s “coercion and destabiliz­ing behavior” in the region, including incursions near the Senkaku Islands, threats to Taiwan, and human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The Bidensuga summit will echo this firm rhetoric on China, affirm U.S. treaty obligation­s to defend Japan in the event of an attack on the Senkaku Islands, and take the important step of including Taiwan by name in noting the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. New initiative­s to enhance supply chain resilience and internatio­nal developmen­t cooperatio­n to compete with China on 5G and hydrogen power are also expected to be announced.

What do these developmen­ts indicate? Threequart­ers of a century after the end of World War II, a democratic Japan, anchored firmly in the U.s.japan alliance and in the principles of the free and open Indopacifi­c, is ready to come into its own as a global power.

But Japan needs to go further: as a frontline nation in the strategic competitio­n with China, Japan needs to make its territorie­s and waters increasing­ly inaccessib­le to Chinese incursions. At a time when China is investing heavily in nextgenera­tion, networked defense technologi­es, Japan should do the same and bolster its deterrent.

Japan has increased defense spending each of the last nine years, and augmented capabiliti­es significan­tly, most especially with the purchase of 147 F35 joint strike fighters, the signature product of Fort Worthbased Lockheed Martin Aeronautic­s. But Japan needs to spend more (and allocate funds more effectivel­y) to move from defense to deterrence.

The U.S. should deepen defense industrial cooperatio­n further to meet the China challenge through codevelopm­ent of nextgenera­tion defense capabiliti­es. The U.S. can help Japan bolster its national security infrastruc­ture by further incorporat­ing Japan in our defense supply chain, and by including Japan, as we do other key allies, in our national technology and industrial base.

Part of the challenge, however, lies in the Japanese constituti­on itself. After World War II, in transformi­ng occupied Japan into a peaceful, prosperous democracy, the U.S. dismantled Japan’s warfightin­g capabiliti­es and put in place a constituti­on that renounces the “use of force as a means of settling internatio­nal disputes.” Even reinterpre­ted, as it has been, to allow for collective selfdefens­e, Japan’s constituti­on may still pose obstacles to preemption and effective joint operations.

The retired chief of staff of the Japanese Joint Chiefs, Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, said it best: “Japan should have a stronger sense of ownership” in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, as the Taiwan Strait lies next to Japan. Accordingl­y, it is essential that Taiwan be on the agenda for the Bidensuga summit.

Japan has found its voice with its blunt criticism of Xi’s increasing­ly aggressive and repressive actions. There is no better moment for Japan to move toward greater security engagement on its own behalf.

 ?? Eugene Hoshiko/agence Francepres­se ?? Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (right), with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, walk to attend a courtesy call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Tokyo. On Friday, Suga will be the first head of government welcomed to the Biden White House.
Eugene Hoshiko/agence Francepres­se Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (right), with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, walk to attend a courtesy call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Tokyo. On Friday, Suga will be the first head of government welcomed to the Biden White House.

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