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World: Security, China to dominate Biden’s talks with Japan’s Kishida

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The leaders of the United States and Japan will contend with China’s growing might, North Korea’s missiles, and Russia’s aims in Ukraine when they hold their first substantial talks since Fumio Kishida became Japanese prime minister in October.

The online meeting between US President Joe Biden and Kishida, scheduled for Friday Washington time, will build on this month’s so-called “two-plus-two” discussions when their defence and foreign ministers pledged to work together against efforts to destabilise the Indo-Pacific region.

Alarm over China’s growing assertiveness, tensions over Taiwan, and shared concern over Ukraine have raised Japan’s global profile on security matters, while North Korea has ramped up tensions with an unusually rapid series of missile tests.

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Pyongyang, which fired tactical guided missiles this week in its latest series of tests, warned on Thursday it might rethink a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, reported on Friday that Washington and Tokyo are also calling on all parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to help achieve “a meaningful outcome” at its next review conference.

“Japan and the United States recognise the NPT as indispensable for preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and achieving their total elimination.”

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Japanese counterpart Akiba Takeo set the agenda on Thursday when they spoke about their respective approaches to North Korea, China, and economic issues in the Indo-Pacific, the White House said.

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“Sullivan underscored concern about the possibility of further Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the two concurred on the importance of solidarity in signaling to Moscow the strong, united response that would result from any attack,” a White House statement said

The White House has said the leaders will discuss economic and security matters, emerging technology, cybersecurity, climate change and other bilateral issues.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday the aim was “to further strengthen the US-Japan alliance” and ensure “a free and open Indo-Pacific” – language used to describe US efforts to push back against China.

‘Unstable’ security situation

The talks follow other security-related meetings involving Indo-Pacific leaders – two-plus-two talks between Japan and France on Thursday and between Australian and British foreign and defence ministers on Friday.

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Japan’s defence minister said after the talks with France that the security situation in the Indo-Pacific was unstable and “getting tougher”.

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama and now with Asia Society Policy Institute, a think-tank, said the two-plus-two meeting showed Washington and Tokyo were on the same page.

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“We should expect their discussion to focus on practical measures to deter and defend against destabilising behaviour, whether from North Korea or in hot spots like the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China Seas,” he said.

China has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it claims as its own.

Messaging on China becomes all the more important, as Biden and Kishida both face elections this year — for Japan’s upper house of parliament in July and US midterm congressional elections in November.

Both nations are reviewing their security strategy, with details expected to be unveiled later this year. Japan has approved record defence spending for 2022.

Japan will beef up its defences of islands near Taiwan, Kishida said this week, following a promise in October to revise security strategy to consider “all options, including possession of so-called enemy-strike capabilities”.

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