The Biden-Kishida Summit Meeting
Fumio Kishida will make his first visit to Washington as prime minister of Japan for a summit meeting with President Biden on January 13. The two leaders met frequently last year to coordinate an expansive agenda for U.S.-Japan relations and align their respective strategies in the Indo-Pacific region, a process that will continue at this meeting after the Japanese government released new national security and defense strategies last month. The two leaders are also expected to address an array of issues animating bilateral economic ties, as well as common approaches to preserving the rules-based international order as Japan prepares to host the G7 summit in Hiroshima this May.
Q1: What is the impetus for Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Washington?
A1: As a former foreign minister under the late prime minister Shinzo Abe, foreign policy is one of Kishida’s strengths, and he has furthered his diplomatic profile since assuming office in October 2021. Kishida hosted President Biden for a bilateral summit meeting last May, as well as an in-person meeting with the Quad leaders and the official launch of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). U.S.-Japan coordination with Australia and South Korea also proceeded apace, and Kishida, together with Biden and other leaders, also attended regional summits in Southeast Asia last November, amplifying the networking dimension to regional strategy that is foundational for Japan and the United States.
This year, as host of the G7 meeting, Kishida will also highlight Japan’s leadership role globally and is visiting France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Canada this week to coordinate messaging on Ukraine and other issues on the agenda for the summit meeting in May. Washington is Kishida’s last stop, where he and Biden could touch on the G7, but will likely focus on Japan’s recently released national security and defense strategies and the implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is the cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy.
There is also a political backdrop for Kishida’s visit to Washington. His approval rating dipped below 40 percent last year due to various issues, including political funding scandals that forced some members of his cabinet to resign. This U.S.-Japan summit meeting is also arguably designed to remind the Japanese public of his diplomatic bona fides and shore up his political standing before he returns home to defend his policy agenda when the Diet reconvenes later this month.
Q2: Is there potential for enhancing U.S.-Japan security cooperation?
A2: Kishida’s main objective is to explain the new strategies centered on countering security threats posed by China, North Korea, and Russia, and acquiring advanced defense capabilities that will facilitate security cooperation with the United States and other like-minded countries. Washington has strongly endorsed the strategies, and the White House will likely use the visit to showcase the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance and Japan’s unprecedented decision to step up. Kishida pledged to invest more in defense during his meeting with Biden in Tokyo last May and can now present evidence in the form of a plan to increase defense spending from 1 to 2 percent of GDP in five years, and a $51 billion defense budget for this year alone, a 25 percent increase over last year. Other highlights include a commitment to strengthen deterrence by acquiring long-range strike and other advanced capabilities. President Biden is expected to reiterate his support for Japan’s strategic trajectory and plans to further bolster the U.S.-Japan alliance.
The summit meeting will be preceded on January 11 by a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, or 2+2, comprised of the U.S. secretaries of state and defense and their Japanese counterparts. The 2+2 reportedly will issue a joint statement to celebrate the increased alignment of their respective strategies to maintain stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region (under the moniker “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”) and outline a range of priorities for bilateral defense cooperation, including adjustments to U.S. force posture, expanded bilateral exercises and training, and proposals to increase joint use of defense infrastructure to enhance interoperability. In short, the consultations this week reflect the transformational nature of Japan’s new national security and defense strategies and will open a new chapter in alliance cooperation.
Q3: Will economic issues be discussed at the summit?
A3: Although traditional security issues will likely dominate the summit, the two leaders have plenty to talk about on the economic front. Forecasts for global growth in 2023 are being revised downward, as the impact of interest rate hikes to tackle inflation kicks in and post-Covid spending bounce fades everywhere but China. With food and energy markets still disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and health and climate risks looming, Biden and Kishida will have an early opportunity to coordinate their approach to an array of challenging global economic issues as Japan begins its G7 host year.
Economic and technological competition with China is also likely to feature in the two leaders’ discussions. In a speech at CSIS last week, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) Yasutoshi Nishimura hinted that Japan was ready to follow the United States in imposing export controls on advanced semiconductors and other sensitive dual-use technologies. Biden may also hear from Kishida about the need to align industrial policies so as not to unduly favor domestic products over ones produced by allies, an implicit criticism of the protectionist elements of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed by Biden last summer. And the two leaders may discuss allied responses to China’s economic coercion.
While offering Japan’s support for progress in the IPEF, Kishida is also likely to urge Biden to revisit the question of early U.S. accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). In addition to the demand signal from around the region for a U.S. return to traditional trade agreements offering greater access to the large U.S. market, Kishida may cite the awkwardness of Japan indefinitely holding off consideration of China’s application to join CPTPP. The prime minister may also seek U.S. support for other economic rulemaking initiatives that Japan is prioritizing in its G7 host year, including operationalizing the concept of “data free flow with trust” (DFFT) originally proposed by former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Q4: How important is the relationship with Japan to U.S. strategic interests?
A4: From defense cooperation to economic security and norms for the digital economy, Japan is at the center of key policy initiatives supporting U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. No surprise, then, that the White House would invite Kishida to expand on his vision for Japan’s leadership role in world affairs and reaffirm the vitality of the U.S.-Japan alliance as the two countries work to shape the regional and global order.
Nicholas Szechenyi is a senior fellow with the Japan Chair and deputy director for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Yuko Nakano is a fellow with the CSIS Japan Chair and associate director of the U.S.-Japan Strategic Leadership Program at CSIS. Matthew P. Goodman is senior vice president for economics at CSIS.
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