At present Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is closing out his January 9-14 tour of G7-member partners Italy, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Formerly Japan’s longest serving Foreign Minister, diplomacy – – not domestic politics – – is Mr. Kishida’s strength.
The primary reason for Mr. Kishida’s five-nation trip is to prepare for the May, 2023 G7 summit that Japan will host in his home constituency of Hiroshima. Much of his focus involves the urgent, worsening security environment in the Indo-Pacific involving neighboring China, Russia and North Korea.
In particular, Prime Minister Kishida is making the case to his hosts that the West’s unified response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must inform how the free world responds to a future invasion of Taiwan.
The Prime Minister’s is arguing that the world must not become complacent and allow larger states to take over smaller states by force, as Putin has done in Ukraine. The ensuing problems of food and energy price hikes, famine, human dislocation and trade disruptions have all contributed to inflationary pressures that are global in their reach, not merely regional.
Mr. Kishida and his predecessors view a Chinese invasion of Taiwan as a direct threat to Japan’s security given its proximity to the sphere of battle and due to the disruption of Japanese air and sea supply routes that would result from such a crisis.
To this end, Prime Minister Kishida is urging fellow G7 member countries to unify and prepare for long, enduring conflict and competition with China.
Mr. Kishida’s efforts have already paid off. In December, Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy unveiled plans to jointly develop a next generation fighter aircraft.
Additionally, the new Japan-United Kingdom defense pact announced in London on January 11 outlining how troops are to be deployed on one another’s soil illustrates the degree of seriousness that Japan and its partners are placing on Indo-Pacific security. In effect, Japan and its G7 member states are preparing for how they will react to Chinese aggression involving Taiwan and elsewhere in the region.
During their January 13 meeting in Washington, Prime Minister Kishida and President Joe Biden furthered ongoing discussions on ways in which Japan and the United States can modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance to include joint efforts in space, cyberwarfare, information security, disaster response and Coast Guard and naval operations.
The two men are also reviewing how their countries can work together to guard against the economic coercion periodically employed by Beijing, most notably China’s blocking of rare earths metals shipments to Japan in 2010 and restricting exports of badly-needed medical goods to the US and other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such efforts by Tokyo and Washington will include moving critical supply chains to friendly countries and bringing back manufacturing capacity in strategic sectors.
There are other security challenges on Japan’s radar that Mr. Kishida is discussing with his hosts. Among them, North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons program and ever-increasing missile tests, joint Russian-Chinese naval exercises and repeated Chinese incursions into Japanese territorial waters and air space.
This complex array of security threats has led to Japan committing to increase its defense spending to 2% of its GDP and to develop counterstrike capabilities with Tomahawk cruise missiles purchased from the United States. While this forward-leaning posture is a dramatic departure from Japan’s decades-long reluctance to develop the means for offensive warfare, Mr. Kishida views it as a necessary step towards protecting his country through deterrence.
In recent months four of his cabinet ministers have been forced to resign due to scandals relating to their links with the Unification Church, the religious organization that has been the subject of much scrutiny after the son of one of its members assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last summer.
Mr. Kishida hopes that this week’s engagement in realist diplomacy will help prepare Japan and its partners for possible future conflicts, while also boosting his popularity with Japanese voters and strengthening his political standing.