Japan, U.S. Strengthen Alliance, Expand Defense Cooperation

May 2024  
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans to strengthen and expand significantly their countries’ alliance with military, space-related, and other projects as a hedge against China and Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden (L) hosts Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida April 10 at the White House, where they announced projects to strengthen their countries’ partnership. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

In a joint statement and at a press conference at the White House during Kishida’s state visit April 10, Biden reiterated the U.S. “unwavering commitment…to the defense of Japan under Article V of the [Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security], using its full capabilities, including nuclear capabilities.” 

He said this commitment includes the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, Japan, and Taiwan. 

At the press conference, Kishida said that “Japan is determined to strengthen our defense force through [the] position of counterstrike capabilities, increase our defense budget and other initiatives, and was reassured by President Biden of his strong support for such efforts.”

The two leaders stressed a sense of urgency driven by concerns that China “could unilaterally change the status quo” in the East China Sea by force or coercion and that Russia continues waging a “brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.”

A day later, they met with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the White House, underscoring the widening web of regional alliances intended to serve as a bulwark against Chinese activities in trade, technology, and military aggression.

At the April 10 press conference, Biden described the expanded Japanese-U.S. cooperation as “the most significant upgrade of our alliance since…it was first established.” 

It was the first official visit by a Japanese leader to the United States since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hosted by President Barack Obama in 2015 and comes as Biden faces reelection in November and Kishida is expected to face a political test later this year.

Kishida cast the international community as standing at “a historical turning point.” 

He said that, “in order for Japan, the [United States], the Indo-Pacific region and…the whole world to enjoy peace, stability, and prosperity lasting into the future, we must resolutely defend and further solidify a free and open international order based on the rule of law.”

Among the steps being taken to strengthen defense and security cooperation, Biden said the allies are modernizing command-and-control structures, increasing interoperability, and planning for their military forces to work together “in a seamless and effective way.”

For the first time, Japan and the United States, working with Australia, will create a networked air, missile, and defense system. Japan and the United States will conduct trilateral military exercises with the United Kingdom and explore how Japan can cooperate with Australia, the UK, and the United States in their AUKUS defense partnership, Biden said.

Kishida hailed a space cooperation agreement that includes plans for two Japanese astronauts to go to the moon on future Artemis missions for NASA.

The prime minister’s weeklong visit to the United States included an address to Congress on April 11 in which he highlighted how, as a native of Hiroshima, he has devoted his political career to realizing a world free of nuclear weapons. “For years, I have worked to revitalize the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] regime so that we can gain momentum in pursuit of the aspiration,” he said.

The Japanese-U.S. joint statement stressed that the two countries are resolved to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and reaffirmed the value of the NPT regime, as well as a series of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation initiatives advocated by Kishida.

Despite such efforts, “there exists an imminent danger of nuclear weapons proliferation in East Asia.… Ukraine of today may be East Asia of tomorrow,” Kishida warned.

Focusing on China, he said its “current external stance and military actions present an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge, not only to the peace and security of Japan but to the peace and stability of the international community at large.” 

Kishida also called attention to North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and Russia’s continued threat of nuclear weapons use.

In the face of such security challenges in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, “close coordination between Japan and the [United States] is required more than ever to ensure that the deterrence our alliance provides remains credible and resilient,” he said, adding that “the deterrence that our alliance provides is stronger than ever, bolstered by U.S. extended deterrence for Japan.”

The trilateral summit with Marcos reflected efforts to further expand partnerships in Asia. In a joint statement, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States voiced concerns over China’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea” and “the militarization of reclaimed features and unlawful maritime claims” in the region. 

They also announced plans to conduct a sea-based trilateral exercise and establish “a trilateral maritime dialogue to enhance coordination and collective responses to promote maritime cooperation.” 

In response, Chinese officials summoned Japanese and Philippine diplomats to complain about what Beijing considered “negative comments” about China, Reuters reported on April 12.

At a press conference that same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning expressed China’s opposition to the “manipulation of group politics” by Japan, the Philippines, and the United States and “the establishment of closed and exclusive small circles in the region.”

Calling the joint statement and trilateral cooperation “the wonton smear attack” against China, Mao said that “they should not introduce confrontation between camps into the region, let alone engage in trilateral cooperation at the expense of harming the interests of other countries.”