The Washington Times Daily

Three ways the Biden administra­tion can bolster the U.S.-Japan relationsh­ip

U.S. and Japan must be able to respond to North Korean aggression, China’s threats to Taiwan and natural diasasters

- By H.R. McMaster and Riley Walters H.R. McMaster is the Japan Chair at Hudson Institute and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institutio­n. Riley Walters is deputy director of the Japan Chair at Hudson Institute.

President Biden and his foreign policy team have committed themselves to restoring a multilater­al approach to global engagement, declaring that “diplomacy is back.” While this is an admirable sentiment, it’s important to remember that diplomacy is a means and not an end in itself. It is critical that the new administra­tion focus its diplomatic strategy on protecting American interests and deterring our adversarie­s. Threats to U.S. security and vital interests abroad will require the integratio­n of diplomacy with other elements of national power and the efforts of likeminded partners. In particular, the Indo-Pacific region demands a competitiv­e approach to diplomacy in response to two significan­t threats to the U.S. and its allies: the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea and the increasing­ly aggressive behavior of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

While the CCP speaks the language of cooperatio­n and responsibl­e governance, it presides over one of the greatest peacetime military build-ups in history — threatenin­g its neighbors, suppressin­g freedoms at home, exporting its authoritar­ian model abroad and subverting internatio­nal organizati­ons.

Beijing coopts countries and elites through false promises of impending liberaliza­tion and insincere pledges to work on important issues such as climate change. Moreover, the CCP coerces businesses to acquiesce to unfair practices, support its ambitions and mute criticism of its egregious violations of human rights internally as well as its active support for authoritar­ianism internatio­nally.

President Biden was correct that the U.S. cannot overcome these challenges alone. The challenges associated with the CCP’s campaign of co-option and coercion are particular­ly daunting, and require a concerted multinatio­nal response. As the Biden administra­tion pursues a higher degree of internatio­nal cooperatio­n, the already-strong U.S.-Japan alliance is certain to prove foundation­al to that effort.

Building “on top” would be a more accurate assessment than the administra­tion’s slogan to “build back” an already strong U.S.–Japan alliance.

Although Japanese public opinion polls on President Trump were never favorable, his administra­tion and the administra­tion of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo worked well together. The recently declassifi­ed framework for the Indo-Pacific Strategy highlighte­d these efforts with Japan and other likeminded partners across the Indo-Pacific. For one, these efforts emphasized collective­ly promoting “a liberal economic order and preventing China from establishi­ng new, illiberal spheres of influence.”

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who succeeded Mr. Abe in late 2020, has affirmed his commitment to continue to work with Washington to realize the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. National Security Advisers Jake Sullivan and Kitamura Shigeru have also emphasized the importance of the alliance, as have Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo.

However, the Biden and Suga administra­tions should not take the strength of past relationsh­ips for granted. A “build on top” approach will require sustained investment. Here are three immediate priorities for that investment:

First, diplomatic. Put the right people and processes in place to align our strategies and extend common action to other nations. Select an experience­d Asia expert for ambassador to Japan. The U.S. and Japan will need someone in Tokyo who knows how to respond to events in the region — whether it’s North Korean aggression, China’s threats to Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands, natural disasters or more.

Continuing to strengthen the “Quad” format along with Australia and India while aligning the Washington-Tokyo-Seoul relationsh­ip is a necessity. Chinese and North Korean aggression should provide impetus for strengthen­ing collective defense and deterrence across the Indo-Pacific. As for other countries subjected to CCP coercion, Japan is well positioned to make clear that the choice these countries face is not between Washington or Beijing; it is a choice between sovereignt­y or servitude.

Internatio­nally, Washington and Tokyo should drive reform within institutio­ns that the CCP has subverted or turned against their purpose. First and foremost, a reform of the World Health Organizati­on is necessary as we continue to fight the human and economic damage caused by COVID-19.

It will take a competitiv­e approach to diplomacy to prevent China from co-opting important internatio­nal efforts like setting standards for the digital economy or mitigating the effects of climate change. U.S.-Japan cooperatio­n can help prevent the CCP from gaining unfair advantages in similar global issues by establishi­ng standards for our burgeoning digital world, expanding science and technology research and developmen­t, considerin­g how supply chains can be restructur­ed, and more.

Second, military. Convince other nations to enforce U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea and act in concert to counter the CCP’s aggressive and genocidal practices. Japan’s proximity to the North Korean threat allows its diplomats to make a compelling argument for not returning to the failed pattern of previous efforts to denucleari­ze and try to convince Kim Jong-Un that his dictatorsh­ip is safer without the most destructiv­e weapons on earth than it is with them.

The Biden and Suga administra­tions might continue discussion­s on defense burden sharing while emphasizin­g reduced cost through the procuremen­t of compliment­ary rather than redundant military capabiliti­es. This includes finding continuity between our two national security and defense strategies. Finding efficienci­es while ensuring combined effectiven­ess is essential due to financial burdens associated with COVID-19 relief.

And third, economic. Japan has stepped up as a leader for regional trade and investment these last few years. The Biden administra­tion would do well to support Japan’s continued leadership on critical trade issues.

For example, as CPTPP Committee Chair in 2021, Japan could support the admission of Taiwan. And as efforts continue to implement the 2019 U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, the Biden administra­tion might clarify that automobile imports from Japan are no threat to U.S. national security.

Both countries must also continue efforts started under previous administra­tions, to work with the European Union and likeminded countries, to reform the World Trade Organizati­on and demand reciprocal trade and economic practices in China.

President Biden and Prime Minister Suga will have their hands full overcoming the economic, health and social traumas caused by the pandemic. In the U.S., the Biden administra­tion is building a team while coping with these challenges and attempting to overcome maladies associated with political polarizati­on and social divisions.

Mr. Suga faces elevated expectatio­ns for Japan’s internatio­nal role associated with the influentia­l legacy of his predecesso­r. Leaning on one another as they confront difficult challenges abroad may also help Mr. Suga and Mr. Biden generate confidence and unity at home essential for maintainin­g a competitiv­e approach to foreign policy and national security.

 ?? ILLUSTRATI­ON BY GREG GROESCH ??
ILLUSTRATI­ON BY GREG GROESCH

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