Previewing the Japanese Official Visit and Trilateral Leaders’ Summit

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This transcript is from a CSIS press briefing hosted on April 2, 2024.

Alex Kisling: Brad, thanks so much. And hello, everybody, and welcome to the CSIS press briefing previewing next week’s official visit to the United States by Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, as well as the trilateral leaders’ summit between the United States, Japan, and the Philippines. We have a terrific lineup of CSIS experts joining the call today to share their perspectives on the context, significance, and political backdrop of the official visit and the trilateral summit.

Just a couple of housekeeping notes before we get started. Each of our speakers will offer a few minutes of introductory remarks, after which we’ll turn to your questions. We’ll also be distributing a transcript of today’s call to all participants in the next few hours, and a transcript will be made available on later today.

So, with that, why don’t we go ahead and get started? I’ll turn first to Dr. Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia and the Korea chair here at CSIS. Victor over to you.

Victor Cha: Great. Thank you very much, Alex. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today to discuss the state visit of Prime Minister Kishida Japan, the trilateral summit with President Marcos, as well as the bilateral meeting between President Marcos and President Biden on April 10th and April 11th.

This is really a first in its own right, I think, and reflects the success in the way the administration has networked its bilateral alliances into these minilaterals to deal with issues like economic security, freedom of navigation, and a challenging security environment in the region. So just with a little bit of history, as you all know, the U.S. alliance network, when it started out –when it was built by people like John Foster Dulles at the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, was envisioned as a set of exclusive security partnerships. If we use geometry, there were bilateral line segments, if you will, with each partner in Asia.

But what we have really seen, and we see it with this upcoming bilateral next week, is a flourishing of these many different shapes – pyramids, trilaterals, quadrilaterals. You’re all familiar with them, things like AUKUS, Camp David, IPEF, and others. And I – you know, I want to note at the beginning, that this is really unique – a unique phenomenon in the history of alliances, as we see states in the Indo-Pacific responding to the uncertainty and concerns that have been created by China’s assertive behavior in the region, on the sea and in the air, economic coercion.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all countries are ready to sign up to some sort of strangulation of China, as Beijing has recently described it. But it does mean that countries are defining it as in their long-term interests to be a part – to welcome and to be a part of the U.S. commitment to the region, and they’re receptive to new ways to cooperate with the Biden administration, as we’re seeing on everything from the South China Sea to economic coercion to the Taiwan Strait.

Finally, I think it’s important to note that in this networking of the or mini-lateralizing of the American alliance system in Asia, the U.S.-Japan alliance really is the hub or the core of this effort. You see – what you have is the U.S.-Japan alliance as the core, and what you see is branching off and pulling in others for different forms of trilateral. So in Northeast Asia, it pulls in the South Koreans. In Southeast Asia, it’s pulling in the Philippines. In the South Pacific, it’s pulling in Australia. In the Taiwan Strait, obviously it’s pulling in Japan.

So the U.S.-Japan alliance really is sort of the core of this mini-lateral exercise. And so I think it’s appropriate that we start by talking with – about the U.S.-Japan alliance in the state visit next week with Chris.

So back to you, Alex.

Mr. Kisling: Victor, thank you.

We’ll turn next to Christopher Johnstone, CSIS senior adviser and our Japan chair. Chris, over to you.

Christopher B. Johnstone: OK, thanks, Alex. And thanks to everyone for joining this morning. Great to be here.

I’m going to focus a bit on the bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Kishida and leave the discussion of the Philippines component to my colleague Greg Poling.

But the first point to make, this is the first official visit by a Japanese leader since Prime Minister Abe in 2015. It’s called an official visit. It’s really the same thing as a state visit. The only difference is that Kishida is not technically the head of state in Japan. He’s the head of government. And so they call it an official visit. But the trappings are all basically the same.

It’s the highest diplomatic honor that can be accorded to a counterpart. These are rare; really only usually one or two a year. And for Biden, what this does by inviting Kishida, it rounds out the Quad. Now all members of the Quad have had a state visit to the White House, along with the president of South Korea; so a very heavy Indo-Pacific focus in these kinds of visits.

For Kishida, in addition to the visit to the White House, he’ll be giving a speech to the Congress on April 11th. He’ll be traveling to North Carolina, where he will visit, it’s said, a prospective Toyota investment in an EV battery plant. And then the trilateral meeting will take place on the 11th as well.

And for President Biden, this is, of course, a chance to highlight and cement progress in the relationship, the most important bilateral alliance in the Indo-Pacific, as Victor had said. It’s a chance to sustain urgency and momentum in this relationship.

For Kishida, it’s a chance to showcase his ties to the U.S., to prop up support at home. Nick will talk about this more a bit later. He does face some domestic political challenges. And it’s also a chance for Kishida to speak to a bipartisan audience in the United States in the form of this speech to Congress, because, like many partners, Tokyo is a bit nervous about the trajectory of politics in the United States.

So for this White House and from a U.S. perspective, this visit reflects the view that the relationship with Japan is in a period of historic strength. And Kishida himself has been an important leader and partner. And frankly, this was not particularly expected when he first came to office in 2021.

Since he took office, Japan has done a number of significant things that I think this visit will highlight – historic national-security and national-defense strategies that they released in 2022, which reflected a very strong focus on China, strong focus on strengthening the United States – relations with the United States, and a strong focus on strengthening Japan’s own defense capacity, to include increasing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, investing in new capabilities, and a host of other steps that previous prime ministers, including Prime Minister Abe, were not able to deliver. Kishida did. And, in fact, defense spending is up in Japan 50 percent over the last two years.

Kishida has been a strong supporter on Ukraine, also something that was not necessarily expected. Prime Minister Abe had a history of seeking to engage President Putin. That was at times a source of friction with Washington.

Kishida has taken a much more clear stance in support of the West, the G-7, and responding to the invasion, and Kishida was an effective steward last year of the G-7 process, driving a focus on economic security, responding to economic coercion, promoting cooperation on technology.

And there are other issues as well where I think from this White House’s perspective Kishida has been important – the breakthrough in ties with South Korea, which although I think it’s fair to say is – more credit is deserved by President Yoon than Kishida but still nonetheless he’s helped to build on this opportunity.

So a broad strong sense of alignment but I also think a need to sustain a sense of urgency on progress as politics in both countries, in both Japan and the United States, become more complicated.

So I think – let me say a few words about deliverables before I hand it back. I think the deliverables of this meeting will reflect sort of a combination of consolidation and operationalization. Less a focus on grand statements of intent, more a focus on the specifics of execution locking in progress, institutionalizing progress, translating strategic alignment into concrete action.

And I expect to see things centered in a handful of buckets. The first and the biggest bucket will be defense. I expect that you will see a statement of intent to modernize the command and control architecture of the alliance to the move toward modernizing the structure and authorities of the U.S. command structure in Japan and moving to a new structure of interaction with Japan with a new operational command that’s been established in Japan.

So this will take us in the direction of a much more true military alliance than we’ve had before in the U.S.-Japan context. The summit, I expect, will point a direction. Won’t set out the specifics of a vision but will point a direction in the handoff to the Department of Defense to put the meat on those bones.

Then I think you’ll see other concrete steps to strengthen what I would call the credibility of the alliance, a pilot training initiative, for example, that will be quite significant in strengthening air power cooperation.

You’ll see a host of things related to defense industry cooperation, some co-production equipment – of defense equipment to, perhaps, include air defense missiles in particular, an announcement related to the maintenance and repair of U.S. equipment in Japan so that we don’t have to bring some of that equipment back to the United States – that work could be done in Japan – and the announcement of a new defense industrial policy coordination forum that will be intended to drive cooperation on specific capabilities. So I think a pretty substantive agenda on defense will be announced.

A second area that my colleague Kari will discuss in more detail relates to space. There’s deep and expanding cooperation in both the civilian and the defense side. I think you’ll see some announcements related to the Artemis Moon landing campaign, perhaps the announcement of a contribution by Japan of the lunar rover vehicle, and they will likely say something about Japanese astronauts being at least among the first international partners to land on the Moon as part of the Artemis effort.

A third will be a host of initiatives related to technology – AI, quantum, climate change and clean energy – a discussion of coordination of policy related to tech promotion and tech protection, obviously, a central issue in the alliance these days. And, again, one of the big highlights will be this visit by Kishida to the EV battery plant in North Carolina, which will be a significant investment and employ, of course, a number of Americans.

And then there will be – I think a couple of other buckets will be global development and diplomacy and people-to-people ties where I expect to see things like an announcement of Japanese investment in undersea cable, for example, in the Indo-Pacific region.

I’ll close by noting one issue you will not see addressed in the announcements and that’s Nippon Steel – the prospective Nippon Steel acquisition of U.S. Steel. The leaders will seek to sidestep it, at least publicly, and not talk about it unless they have to. But it certainly does loom in the background. And I think it’s fair to say that it symbolizes for Japan both some of the tension in the Biden administration’s foreign policy, and some of the issues on the minds of many partners about the trend lines in American politics.

So let me – let me stop there and return it back to Alex. And I’m sure we can talk more in the Q&A. Thanks.

Mr. Kisling: Chris, thank you.

We’ll turn next to Kari Bingen, director of the CSIS Aerospace Security Project and our senior fellow with the International Security Program. Kari, over to you.

Kari A. Bingen: Great. Thanks, Alex. And thanks, everyone, for being here this morning.

So space is one of those new or expanded ways of cooperating and further building a deeper relationship, as both Victor and Chris have highlighted. It is becoming even more prominent in the relationship. And there are a few areas of focus and investment that I’d like to highlight. So while there has been a longstanding JAXA-NASA civilian space relationship and deep cooperation over decades, we’re also seeing a new focus on space security and how space capabilities aid national security and defense. And this is significant, and really came out of the 2022 security and defense strategy that Chris highlighted. This emphasis on space security is driven by the security environment – China’s military buildup, North Korea’s unprecedented missile launches, and then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which could presage what aggression in the region would look like.

Tokyo also sees the economic and technology benefits of space. It helps to spur private sector innovation and attract technical talent. And space has become an agenda item, specifically in these high-level discussions. So last January when President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida met, they agreed – they inked a bilateral space agreement which covered cooperation on space exploration, but also discussed the need to better align our force postures in the space domain. For eight successive times, there has been a comprehensive bilateral dialogue bringing together space leadership across our U.S. interagency, as well as Japanese counterparts. And for the first time last year, they held a track 1.5, which brought together both governments and both business communities as well. So we’re also seeing increased investment going into space, both on the civilian and the security side.

So across both civil and security space, I’ll be looking for announcements or emphasis in three areas. And Chris touched on this a bit, so I’ll expand here. The first area, I would say, would be in astronauts and Artemis. So Japan would like to see a Japanese astronaut land on the Moon as one of the first non-American international delegations in the late 2020s. So I’ll be listening for any announcements on further contributions to the Artemis Program that Japan would make, as well as that possible announcement of a Japanese astronaut being part of a future Artemis mission to land on the Moon, and possibly the first international mission.

The second area would be in missile warning and missile defense. I mentioned, the missile threat is acute for them. China and then North Korea in particular, both are not only building their missile inventories but also advancing more sophisticated missiles that can maneuver. The hypersonic glide vehicle, the HGV, is a significant concern. So you need space to be able to access those denied areas or those deep in country launch sites and understand what’s going on. Space provides large coverage areas and good geometry to be able to detect and track missile launchers and missile trajectories, particularly these advanced missiles like hypersonic vehicles.

So I’ll be looking for announcements on further collaboration in the areas of missile warning and missile defense, specifically to address that HGV, or hypersonic glide vehicle, threat. And then possibly further cooperation on actual satellite architectures or satellite constellations, and potentially industry cooperation. And then lastly, I’ll be looking for announcements related to greater data sharing and experimentation. So this could be greater sharing on the threat picture, and then both sides are interested in more, I’ll say, operational-level data sharing and analysis.

So I’ll pause and turn it back over to Alex.

Mr. Kisling: Thank you, Kari.

Before we turn to our next speaker, just a reminder that if you want to ask a question, please press one and then zero. We have a couple speakers left, but after that we will turn to your questions and answer them as best we can.

So our next speaker is Nicholas Szechenyi, senior fellow with the CSIS Japan Chair and our deputy director for Asia. Nick, over to you.

Nicholas Szechenyi: Thanks, Alex. And it’s a pleasure to be with you all today.

I’m going to focus my remarks on the political backdrop to the official visit, and I’ll start with Kishida. Chris mentioned that Prime Minister Kishida is facing some political headwinds at home. His approval rating has lingered in the 20 percent range for the last several months due primarily to a funding scandal in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which he leads, which has proved rather embarrassing and is really dominating the domestic political debate in Japan. He also faces three by-elections for the Diet, or the parliament, at the end of April, so political observers are keeping a close eye on that to see how LDP candidates fare. And then, as leader of the LDP, Kishida needs to run again. There’s a leadership race for president of the ruling party in September. And in addition, there are rumors floating around consistently about whether Kishida might call a snap election at some point prior to September to generate some momentum ahead of that race.

So, on the domestic political front, Kishida is on the defensive. And so this visit to Washington is extremely important because it – for any Japanese leader, but in this political context especially because he wants to show as the leader of Japan that the U.S.-Japan alliance is strong, and that Japan is a leader regionally and globally. And the hope is that this will help him generate some momentum when he returns home to face the very challenging political calendar.

There’s also a political backdrop to the – to the official visit on the U.S. side, which has already been referenced – primarily, President Biden’s comment in mid-March on Nippon Steel’s proposed acquisition of U.S. Steel. I think Japan has a very sophisticated understanding of U.S. politics and understands that this is a domestic political issue, and the Kishida administration has largely refrained from comment and, not surprisingly, is stressing the strength of the U.S.-Japan relationship and all the progress that has been made in various areas that have already been highlighted by my colleagues.

And I agree with Chris Johnstone that the two leaders will not want to address the Nippon Steel issue, but I think the timing of President Biden’s comments were pretty bad leading up to this official visit. And it could create an awkward dynamic where Kishida, for example, could be asked to comment on Nippon Steel, and President Biden could be asked, you know, whether Japanese investment is in the U.S. national interest or whether Japanese investment is a threat to U.S. national security. And this is unfortunate because it would – it would really be devastating if a domestic political issue like Nippon Steel ends up overshadowing the strategic importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship which this official visit is meant to convey. But we’ll just have to see what plays out on that front.

Lastly, you know, can’t comment on this visit without noting that Japan is very keenly watching the U.S. presidential campaign. The comment or the question that we hear frequently from Japanese interlocutors is, what if Trump wins – or, “moshitora” in Japanese. (Laughs.) And I would say that, you know, in 2016, when Abe Shinzo was prime minister, after the election he brought a message to the U.S., which was simply that Japan is an ally that is stepping up. That was a very effective message. And he developed a personal connection with President Trump, which helped bolster U.S.-Japan ties and sustain momentum in the relationship.

I think Japan’s message this time is exactly the same and even more compelling, given everything Kishida has done to bolster Japan’s strategic and diplomatic weight. So looking ahead to next year, the message Japan will bring to Washington will be clear. Japan is stepping up. But what isn’t clear is who Japan’s messenger will be. And that could be a factor if the U.S. enters a period of political transition.

I’ll stop there and turn it back to Alex.

Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Nick.

We’ll turn to Greg as our final speaker here in just a second. A reminder: If you want to ask a question, please press one and then zero. We’ll turn to your questions after Greg.

So without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Gregory Poling, senior fellow and director of the CSIS Southeast Asia Program and our Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Greg, the floor is yours.

Gregory B. Poling: Thanks, Alex. And I’ll keep it brief because I know I’m the last one between everybody and their questions.

So the day after the bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Kishida, we’ll have the trilateral summit where President Marcos from the Philippines will take part, and the next day will be the bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Marcos.

I should start by noting just the timing of this speaks to how important I think both the White House and Manila view the deepening alliance, because Marcos was just in Washington barely a year ago for an official working visit, during which we saw a bevy of security and economic announcements, including the conclusion of the first-ever U.S.-Philippine bilateral defense guidelines.

And that has been – well, it was – a major step in an ongoing process to make the Philippine alliance more mature, more equal; make it look more like the U.S.-Japan alliance, and to a degree the U.S.-Korea and the U.S.-Australia alliance. That dates back to the end of 2021, when you had the first bilateral strategic dialogue between the two countries since COVID. And they came up with a roadmap, essentially, among the alliance, what was called the Joint Vision Statement for a 21st Century Partnership. And they’ve been marching through that roadmap for now the last two and a half years; really more progress than we’ve seen in the U.S.-Philippine alliance since at least the ’70s.

In parallel to that, you have this deepening of Philippine ties with other security partners, referring back to what Victor mentioned, in meshing the networking of U.S. alliances and security partnerships between those allies, even when the Americans aren’t in the room. We’ve seen a deepening of the Philippine-Australia relationship, new agreements with the Philippines-U.K., Philippines-Canada, most recently Philippines-France, but most of all has been the deepening of the Philippine-Japan security relationship. And this has been deepening quietly for more than a decade, but it’s really accelerated in the last couple of years.

Japan made its first-ever overseas military sale to the Philippines – well, for their overseas military sales, period – and that went to the Philippines a couple of years ago in the form of air-defense radar. Last year Japan gave the Philippines its first grant under its new official security-assistance program for coastal radar.

The Philippines and Japan are in the final stages of negotiating a reciprocal access agreement, which would allow Japanese troops to train in the Philippines and vice versa. This would be Japan’s first-ever what we would call a visiting-forces agreement, what Japan calls an RAA, first ever with an Asian nation. Its only others are those with Australia and the U.K., just negotiated in the last couple of years.

So there’s a lot of momentum building in both of these relationships that they want to coordinate better at the summit. And, of course, the impetus for all of that is China. The Philippines is feeling increasingly that it has no options but deepening its security alliances with the U.S. and with other partners because the Marcos administration views Beijing as implacable when it comes to the South China Sea.

And, as if to emphasize that point, just last week we had another violent clash around Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines have a small military outpost that it has to keep resupplied. Two Chinese coast-guard ships surrounded a civilian resupply vessel manned by Philippine sailors and used high-pressure water cannons on it, severely damaging the vessel, injuring at least two sailors and threatening the lives of others on board. We also had another incident that same week in which a PLA Navy helicopter hovered low over a group of Philippine marine scientists in the South China Sea, injuring several of them.

And that builds on a whole series of violent incidents, including rammings, water cannons, use of acoustic devices and lasers over the last year. So the South China Sea, while I remain cautiously optimistic that the Philippines is succeeding its efforts to push back on China and establish a new status quo, it remains extremely dangerous. It remains a place where I think U.S.-China conflict is most likely, because of the alliance with the Philippines and China’s use of aggression. And it is a place where clearly the Philippines need support from partners in order to deter China from moving out of this so-called gray zone to outright military aggression.

And the last thing I should note is, when we look to whatever the deliverables are from this trilateral, it’s not all going to be security. There’s also been a concerted focus by both Tokyo and Washington to support the Marcos administration’s economic efforts, which are to develop more high-end manufacturing, including Philippine involvement in semiconductor supply chain, more green energy, more critical mineral production. We had the 123 Civil Nuclear Agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines concluded last year. So there’s – oh, and food security has been a huge priority for the Marcos government.

So I suspect that whatever security announcements there are, which will of course garner a lot of attention, it will be bolstered by a series of economic initiatives meant to essentially give Marco something he can go back home and, say: See? The American alliance isn’t just about security. The Americans are also productive economic partners. And therefore, we have the space to stand up to China, as needed.

And I’ll wrap there.

Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Greg. Really appreciate it. And thanks to all of our speakers.

So why don’t we open it up for questions now? I’ll turn it over to our operator, Brad, to open up the line. And we have a number of great questions here in the queue. So, Brad, why don’t we go ahead with our first question?

Operator: Perfect. Thank you.

And we’ll go to Morgan Chalfant with Semafor. Please go ahead.

Q: Thank you so much for doing this.

I just have two questions. Can one of you just talk through exactly how the modernization of the command structure will affect security cooperation with Japan and how long that will take? And then, secondly, you mentioned just kind of Japan’s message of commitment and how that, you know, could be aimed at a potential Trump administration. Can you – can you talk through kind of how Japan is conveying that message and how you’d expect them to be kind of engaging with the Trump world at this point in time?

Mr. Kisling: Chris, would you like to jump in on that first?

Mr. Johnstone: Yeah, sure. Sorry, I was struggling with my mute button. (Laughs.) So I’ll take the first one and maybe invite Nick to take the second one. So on the command relationships with Japan, the first point to make is that the command structure of the U.S.-Japan alliance is nothing like the command structure of what’s in the U.S.-South Korea relationship, which is a combined command, deep integration of forces, unity of command that enables the alliance – in the language they use on the peninsula – to, quote, “fight tonight.” The relationship with Japan has been nothing like that.

For decades Japan was quite simply a platform for U.S. operations in the region. And the priority of cooperating with Japan itself as a military partner was much lower on the list for the United States. That has changed – begun to change over the last decade. It’s accelerating with this buildup that Japan has undertaken, the acquisition, for example, of Tomahawk cruise missiles. So moving in the direction of a Japan that is much more capable and much more able to respond to an emerging contingency. So that means that, as an alliance, we need to be postured to respond together more seamlessly and rapidly as well. So this is where modernizing the structure of command comes to come into play.

Japan is establishing a new joint operations command, which will have authority over joint operations of the Self Defense Forces. And it’s natural to think about establishing a similar counterpart in Japan on the United States side. Today, there is no joint operational commander in Japan on the U.S. side. That commander is at INDOPACOM. So there’s thinking going on inside the Department of Defense. There are number of ways to do this to strengthen the staff and the authorities of U.S. Forces Japan or some other element to enable more operational planning and more day-to-day operations between U.S. forces in Japan and the Japanese side.

So this will take some time. I think as I said in my opening remarks what you’ll see I think is a direction of travel that will be indicated by the leaders that will then be picked up by the 2+2, the meeting of defense and foreign ministers and secretaries of defense and secretary of state later in the year to put more details on this.

No doubt implementation would take a couple of years once a vision is set. But I think there’s a consensus that a new command and control architecture for the U.S.-Japan alliance is necessary and that’s what the leaders will signal or at least what I expect that they will signal next week.

I hope that answers the question.

Q: Yeah. Thanks so much.

Mr. Kisling: And next we can move to George Condon. Excuse me, George Condon is next.

Mr. Szechenyi: Sorry. This is –

Mr. Kisling: Go ahead.

Mr. Szechenyi: This is Nick. Can I answer the second part of the question?

Mr. Kisling: My apology. Go ahead.

Mr. Szechenyi: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you.

So, I mean, I think when former Prime Minister Abe navigated the transition to the first Trump administration what he did very successfully was basically project confidence in Japan’s leadership role, especially on defense.

His strategy was about strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities, really focusing on ties with the U.S. and partnering with other like-minded countries in Asia and that was really effective at a time when Trump was questioning the commitment of allies and was really focused on how much U.S. allies were contributing to defense.

Abe also developed a very compelling foreign policy strategy called the free and open Indo-Pacific, which was basically about networking in Asia across a range of issue areas. That also animated the Trump administration, and the Trump administration and other governments around the world gradually implemented their own free and open Indo-Pacific strategies.

So Japan had a lot of influence on the way the Trump administration thought about Asia and I think, you know, fast forwarding to this visit by Kishida he’s carried forward that very pragmatic foreign policy strategy and has doubled down even more on defense spending.

So as I said earlier, the message Japan is bringing to the U.S. is very compelling. It’s a positive message about Japan’s leadership role regionally and globally and I think that will certainly generate momentum if there’s a second Biden administration and it will certainly animate a second Trump administration.

The wild card, which we can’t predict yet, of course, is whether Kishida will be engaging or whether it will be another Japanese leader, and given that personal connections to President Trump are so important, you know, that’s a question mark and something we’re just going to have to follow whether the personal connection between leaders generates momentum.

But from a strategic standpoint the blueprint that Japan has laid out is going to be compelling regardless of which candidate wins the election.

Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Nick, and thanks, Chris. And, Morgan, thanks for the question.

Brad, why don’t we go to the next question?

Operator: Thank you. We’ll go to George Condon with National Journal. Please go ahead.

Q: Great. Thanks much.

It’s sort of a more fundamental question. I mean, with so much of our own focus now on the Middle East/Gaza/Ukraine, does Japan see this visit as a chance to remind Washington not to take its eye off the Indo-Pacific or is it Biden who sees it as a chance to reassure them that we haven’t forgotten you or the region?

Mr. Kisling: Victor, would you want to respond to that one? Chris as well?

Dr. Cha: Yeah. Sure.

So a couple of thoughts. The first is I think as Chris said, the – this official visit/state visit for Japan will sort of round out the group of Quad countries that have received the highest honor in terms of what the White House can offer. I know this – it just seems like theatrics but, as all know, at the summit level these ceremonies and the words that the leaders use in joint statements and in press conferences, they constitute policy, right? They are an important signal to allies and to others that this is where the United States prizes, you know, its most treasured relationships.

So I think this is certainly a signal to the domestic audiences, I think, both in Japan and the Philippines. But it’s also a very important signal to others that these alliances are really sort of – they’re not just sitting status quo. They are being elevated. They are being improved. They are being upgraded in ways that, you know, are quite historic. I mean, Chris and Nick talked a moment ago about possible changes we might see in the command structure of the U.S.-Japan relationship. You know, not to make it look like the U.S.-Korea relationship, but to make it more of a force that would be ready to fight, if necessary. You know, these are big steps. And from a Japanese domestic political perspective, these are big steps.

Second thing I would say is that you’re absolutely right, I mean, George, that there is – I mean, clearly the administration is quite focused on these other issues, both in Europe and in the Middle East. But at the same time, you know, I think they’ve done a pretty good job of walking and chewing gum at the same time. And the chewing gum part is that Asia sometimes is not very loud. It’s done very quietly. So there’s a lot of cooperation and activity taking place between the United States and Taiwan, for example, now, that – you know, that rivals the sort of cooperation – or, even exceeds the cooperation that exists with current treaty allies. And as Kari said, you know, there are new horizons in which the alliances are beginning to operate. Space being one of them – both with Korea and – with Japan and with Korea.

So I don’t think – I would not characterize this as sort of a visit where they’re kind of losing attention so they’re trying to bring the attention back. But I think that there’s been a pretty steady agenda, despite all of the distractions – not minor distractions – in other places. And, you know, we’re seeing, both with the Japan visit and the deliverables that Chris laid out, as well as, you know, this idea of this trilateral with the Philippines. And then Marcos’ second visit in a very short period of time really are efforts to try and elevate the alliance, not just sort of tread water.

Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Victor.

Chris or Nick, do you want to add anything there?

Mr. Johnstone: I guess the only point that I’d make briefly is that I think you’ll see the administration continue to look for opportunities this year to highlight an ongoing focus on the Indo-Pacific. I think even, for example, when the NATO summit is in Washington this July, I think you can expect that a number of Indo-Pacific leaders, including Prime Minister Kishida, will – may well come back for that. So they’ll continue to look for ways to highlight that the Indo-Pacific is still very much part of the agenda.

Mr. Kisling: All right. Thanks, Chris. Thanks, Victor.

Brad, let’s go to the next question.

Operator: Thank you. We’ll go to Darlene Superville with Associated Press. Please go ahead.

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking my question.

It’s a broader question about the concept of state visit in general. And I’m wondering if someone can talk a little bit about, or if anyone knows, whether this is the kind of thing that foreign governments actually lobby for. You know, like, do they talk to the secretary of state or the national security advisor when they’re in meeting with those folks and say, you know, you know, we’d love to come on a state visit, or something like that? I’m just curious how some of this works. Thank you.

Dr. Cha: So – it’s Victor. I’ll take part of that, and Chris, I’m sure, can speak to it as well.

Q: Thank you.

Dr. Cha: So, half-jokingly, this is what ambassadors are paid for, right? (Laughs.) You know, every White House comes in and they have a sort of – a taxonomy of visits, everything from – you know, everything from a working-level visit, which doesn’t have, like, the pomp and circumstance of a South Lawn arrival ceremony, and a black-tie dinner. So, like, a working-level visit, which will be like morning meetings and then a lunch; to an official visit, to a state visit, which is everything with the bells and whistles. You know, most leaders, I think, when they come to Washington, of course, would love to have a state visit, but it’s not something that White House protocol or White House policy doles out sort of like chewing gum. It’s usually meant for special occasions, for – to mark a milestone in the relationship, things of that nature. So what’s why I said in my earlier comments these things are not – they look like they’re about theatrics, but they really are about policy, and signaling both to friends and to others how close – how close and important the relationship is and whether they’re marking certain milestones in the relationship.

Chris, I don’t know if you want to – you want to add anything to that.

Mr. Johnstone: Yeah. I’d just add – so I agree with all that. I’d just say a couple things.

First of all, you know, there are – there are different categories of visits, right? There is working visit, official working visit, official visit. They all come with set packages of activities that involve the president. So these things, the kind of visit it is has particular meaning.

And as I said, a state visit or official visit, usually there’s one, maybe two of these a year. If you think about it, the Biden administration effectively lost a couple of years because of the COVID pandemic. So I think it’s quite significant that when you look at the five or six that have been done, the heavy focus – I guess it’s actually five, I think – the heavy focus on the Indo-Pacific, right – now all the Quad partners, South Korea, and then France as well, I guess. So this is all – this is all very intentional and signals priority, and the partners recognize that. And sure, certainly partners lobby for visits to the White House, including state visits. But they’re handed out very selectively and based on a – based on a strategy, in my experience.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Kisling: Next we’ll go to –

Operator: And –

Mr. Kisling: Yeah. Please go ahead.

Operator: Pardon me. I apologize. Next go to Anri Higa with Kyodo News. Please go ahead.

Q: Hello. Can you hear me?

Mr. Kisling: Yeah. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you.

My question is about the reform of command and – control and command of U.S. forces in Japan, as mentioned earlier, with Japan’s – (inaudible) – of joint operational command next year and with the reform of command and – control-and-command structure of USFJ. Could strengthening that tie between U.S.-Japan alliance lead – I mean, send a kind of signal to China, and then the U.S.-Japan alliance is THE alliance that perceives China as a significant adversary? (Inaudible.) Thank you.

Mr. Kisling: Chris or Nick?

Mr. Johnstone: Sure, I’ll jump in on that. So I think what I would say on this, first of all, there’s – just to sort of build on what I said earlier, I don’t expect that you’re going to see the U.S. and Japan move fully to establish what exists in South Korea today, a truly integrated combined command. That’s not in the cards for a variety of reasons for the – for the U.S. and Japan.

But there’s clearly a need for a structure that enables the United States and Japan to respond more nimbly, more rapidly, more seamlessly to evolving contingencies. And from my point of view, that’s not provocative at all. It’s simply – A, it’s a natural evolution in the relationship that reflects the larger security role that Japan is playing. And it reflects a pragmatic approach to the challenges that exist in Asia today. Whether you’re thinking about North Korean provocations, missile/nuclear threats, Chinese maritime assertiveness, the broader buildup in China, this is a natural and I think important step in the development of the alliance that will contribute to deterrence. A more – a more integrated and responsive and credible U.S.-Japan alliance is good for the region and good for deterrence.

Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Chris.

Nick, do you have anything to add here?

Mr. Szechenyi: Yeah. I would just say briefly that if China’s objective is to pressure its neighbors and weaken the U.S. alliance network in Asia, it is failing. And C2 modernization in the U.S.-Japan alliance sends a strong signal about jointness and interoperability, which does send a strong signal to China, in my view.

Dr. Cha: Hey, it’s Victor right now. Let me just add one other point, which is, you know, the interesting thing about the question is that you could frame the question in another way of looking at it, which is that the – you know, the absence of an ability for the United States and Japan to work together in a military contingency, if that is something that is perceived by China as a vulnerability, then actually that creates a more unstable environment because it gives China the incentive to believe that it can succeed in some sort of military action, let’s say, across the Taiwan Strait or in the East China Sea.

So the efforts to try to improve the alliance really is trying to help foster credible deterrence and maintain peace rather than allow for an environment in which China could miscalculate.

Mr. Kisling: Great. Thank you.

Brad, why don’t we go to the next question?

Operator: Thank you.

(Gives queueing instructions.)

Next we can go to Rachel Oswald with CQ Roll Call. Please go ahead.

Q: Hi. Thanks for this.

My question has to do with AUKUS and Pillar 2 of AUKUS. I’m wondering if you think there’s a chance of any headway being made in at some point bringing Japan into Pillar 2, new technology development. Japan has been sometimes mentioned as a likely next partner if they ever decide to expand AUKUS beyond the U.K. and Australia.

Mr. Johnstone:

 I can take that, Alex. This is Chris.

Mr. Kisling: Great. Yeah, please.

Mr. Johnstone: Yeah. So thanks for the question. It’s a good point. I do expect there’ll be some reference to AUKUS Pillar 2 in the joint statement, some broad statement of intent to identify a project that Japan could participate in under Pillar 2.

My sense is that there is not yet a consensus among the three AUKUS partners on what that project is, but there is a broad consensus that Japan should be one of the first, if not the first, partners that’s brought in as part of an expanded effort on a particular project.

I do think that this raises the broader question of a broader issue set related to technology-release policies for Japan. As I think you well know, there’s an effort in Congress to create AUKUS carve-out to facilitate technology release, information sharing, among the AUKUS partners. And I think it may be – as we think about Japan participating in a particular project, it may be time to think about how we expand those carve-outs to include other partners that are bringing something to the table in defense-industrial cooperation.

You know, I think the war in Ukraine has really spotlighted the importance of allied defense-industrial capacity as a vital part of deterrence and a vital part of, you know, sustaining our collective ability to fight. And so I think this issue is part of a larger issue set for the United States in enabling more easily cooperation on technology, cooperation on defense equipment, with our closest friends, because we need it. It’s in our interest.


Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Chris.

Brad, why don’t we go to the next question?

Operator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to Patsy Widakuswara with Voice of America. Please go ahead.

Pardon me. Patsy, your line is open.

Q: Can you hear me?

Operator: We can now.

Q: OK. Sorry about that. And sorry if this has been raised earlier, because I joined in a little late.

Can you give me some context in how President Biden might explain the goals of the trilat summit to President Xi in his call today, particularly on the series of initiatives to counter China’s behavior in the South China Sea? And then I have a second question on how much of the trilat will discuss U.S. wanting to rely on Japan and the Philippines should Washington need to come to Taiwan’s defense against a potential Chinese invasion? Thanks.

Mr. Kisling: Greg, do you want to lead off there?

Mr. Poling: Yeah, happy to. I don’t know that we’re going to see any deviation from the public talking points when it comes to how President Biden might speak about the summit to President Xi. Both Secretary Blinken said it, you know, last week, and in the official statement from the White House we saw a heavy focus on the economic aspect of the summit, plus defense overall and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

We’ll hear, you know, the standard language that the U.S. has an ironclad commitment with the Philippines, and is – you know, I don’t know if they’ll speak about the alliance, but clearly the U.S. has said over, and over, and over that it committed to defend the Philippines in the case of any aggression in the South China Sea. So, of course, there will be no effort to rub salt in the wounds here, but the goal is to deter Chinese aggression and make clear to Xi and the leadership that the U.S. will not stand idly by if this gray zone coercion continues to escalate, and potentially leads to the loss of lives of Filipino sailors.

As for Taiwan, I’m sure we will see some language about, you know, concern over cross-strait tensions. The Philippines is, I’d say, over the last two years, having more sophisticated conversations internally and with partners about its role in Taiwan crises. That started with then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit. And President Marcos has made clear that the Philippines cannot be a neutral party, given its geography. But it is not at the place that Japan is. So you’re not going to see the level of sophistication in those conversations. To this point, the deepening of the U.S.-Philippine alliance, and the Philippine-Japan partnership are about the South China Sea, first and foremost. And any talk about Taiwan is going to remain secondary.

Mr. Kisling: Thanks, Greg. Would anyone else like to jump in?

Q: Oh, can I – I’m sorry, can I – can I just add a clarification, if I may? I guess I wanted to know if the timing of the Biden-Xi call today is related at all to – you know, to preempt the trilat summit next week?

Mr. Poling: I don’t have any insights on that. Maybe others do.

Mr. Kisling: Victor.

Dr. Cha: This is Victor. Yeah, it’s Victor. Sorry, yeah, I don’t have any insights either. Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if Xi raised it. They have a number of other issues to talk about, most recently of which was China’s abstention on the U.N. Security Council resolution last week on North Korea – the one that Russia vetoed. Which I know we are – we, the United States – are not very happy with. I mean, kind of expected it from Russia, but didn’t really expect China to abstain. So there are a host of other things. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it came up.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Kisling: We’re just about to hit the hour here. I think we have time for just one more question. I’ll just say in advance, sorry to those who we could not get to their questions this morning. Of course, feel free to reach out to my colleague Sam Cestari with the CSIS media relations team, and we’ll be happy to answer your question later today.

So, Brad, why don’t we go to our final question now?

Operator: Thank you. And that’ll be from Paris Huang with Voice of America. Please go ahead.

Q: Oh, thank you. Actually, my question is somewhat related to what my colleague Patsy just asked.

You guy talk about in the statement U.S. and Japan is kind of upgrading the military command. Japanese media reported that this deal is aimed to face China’s more – be able to face China more timely and effectively, especially if China invades Taiwan. And we’re already seeing the United States and Japan has this alliance in case something happens in Taiwan, and at the same time we are seeing Japan and Philippines also talking about a Reciprocal Access Agreement. So is this trilat a U.S. effort trying to move forward to have Philippines join United States and Japan as a trilateral effort to deter or to react if China attacks Tawain? And how is – or, what is Philippines attitude towards this push? Thank you.

Mr. Kisling: Greg, we’ll turn it back to you.

Mr. Poling: Thanks. So I think the short answer is no. The U.S. – I don’t think the administration views the deepening of the alliance with the Philippines or the trilateralization of the relationship with Japan and the Philippines as being primarily about Taiwan. You know, I know that when we talk about, you know, public perceptions of U.S. efforts in the Indo-Pacific and conversations on the Hill, everything tends to come back to Taiwan. But I don’t think that’s where the Pentagon is. It’s definitely not where Manila is. It’s not where Tokyo is. The deepening of the Philippine-Japan relationship dates back to the Abe and Aquino administrations 10 years ago. And it’s always been about the Japanese perception that the South China Sea and the East China Sea are a single problem, right? That China’s maritime aggression is a threat to the whole region.

Taiwan is increasingly part of the conversation, given growing concerns, but it’s not the focus of the alliance or the security cooperation. And I think both Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden are very aware that, you know, a week after Filipino sailors were nearly killed by Chinese navy aggression, the last thing they can do is walk into a room and tell Marcos that he should be worrying more about Taiwan than about his own people.

Mr. Kisling: Nick? Kari? Would anybody else like to jump in?


Well, if not, I think we have – we’ve reached our hour here. I want to thank all of our speakers and all of our participants for joining us this morning for this – for this timely call. Feel free, for all of our participants, to please reach out to the CSIS media team for anything we can do to help be a resource looking ahead to these activities next week. We’re here to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

As mentioned at the top of the call, we will have a transcript distributed to all of you in the next few hours. It’ll also be available on

So, with that I hope everybody has a good rest of your day, and thanks for joining us.