Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrives in Washington this week for a potentially critical summit with President Joe Biden, especially on China, which Tokyo now publicly recognizes as its main threat.
Just a few weeks ago, Kishida announced a historic “turning point” in Tokyo’s security policy, pledging to double its defense budget in the next five years to 2% of gross domestic product, NATO’s target, leaving Japan’s military behind only the US and China.
Biden paralyzed American strategic thinking about the threat from Beijing, fixating instead on climate change negotiations. Fortunately, our allies moved forward without us.
Before arriving here, Kishida will sign a historic agreement with the UK, providing for mutual domestic treatment of each other’s troops, facilitating joint military exercises and training. Although not as far-reaching as Tokyo’s seminal 1951 status-of-forces agreement with Washington, this new agreement between Japan and Britain is an important step in building collective defense structures in the Indo-Pacific.
Moreover, spurred on by Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine and its implications for Asia, Japan is demonstrating renewed determination to reach far beyond its immediate region. providing unprecedented assistance to Ukraineincluding non-lethal military equipment.
These Japanese initiatives are parallel British leadership in helping Ukrainef. Since February 24, successive UK governments have consistently outnumbered the Biden administration in both political and military support for Kyiv. And in Asia, the UK played a crucial catalytic role in shaping the tripartite AUKUS partnership with the USA to design and build nuclear submarines for the Australian Navy.
However, not all is well with the response of the global West to the threat from Beijing, reflecting the continuing discouraging lack of American leadership. Germany, for example, contrasts sharply with Japan and Britain. Despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement of “fundamental changes” in German security policy just days after Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, Berlin fails to achieve key goals, including increasing defense spending to 2% of GDP this year and allocating 100 billion euros ($106 billion) for defense assets such as 30 nuclear-powered F-35s.
What should happen at the Kishida-Biden summit – but probably won’t – is the beginning of the formation of the elements of a new grand strategy to counter China and its growing alliance with Russia. Japan’s historic budget growth, its impact on Europe, and understanding of the Sino-Russian threat stand in stark contrast to the general timidity of the Biden administration.
Kishida should push for a much more active Asian Quartet (India, Japan, Australia, and the US), which Biden, to his credit, supports by continuing to push its members towards concrete joint action. Copying AUKUS, boosting Japan’s naval capability with nuclear submarines could be of huge benefit in East Asia.
Biden, in turn, must show how his defense budgets will help rejuvenate America’s military-industrial base so that even good ideas like AUKUS don’t weaken our own defense capabilities. both Republicans and Democrats fear.
Biden and Kishida should propose making South Korea a full member of the Quad (forming the “five”), which makes sense given the threats from North Korea and China. After all, on the New Year Kim Jong Un ordered “an exponential increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal”, specifically including tactical nuclear weapons for use against the South, which also threaten Japan and deployed US forces.
Even before Kim’s latest threat, South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol was weighing calls for the redeployment of US nuclear weapons on the peninsula or develop Seoul’s own nuclear weapons.
Japan and South Korea have a long and complicated history that has hindered broad trilateral cooperation with Washington. This story is impossible to ignore, but Biden must do his best to bring Tokyo and Seoul closer in collective defense.
With huge bipartisan support, Taiwan’s security should also be high on the Kishida-Biden agenda. Beijing’s belligerence towards Taipei continues to escalate, including repeated incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwanese airspace.
The world is increasingly, albeit slowly, realizing the need to contain Chinese aggression. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently visited Taipei, calling for “further strengthening of ties between Taiwan and Europe,” an important signal of the island nation’s growing support. More careful planning between Japan, America, other Asian partners and NATO allies should be a top priority.
Even Biden officials admit that China’s behavior has become more and more belligerent of late. This week’s Kishida-Biden summit is the right forum both to show allies’ enduring solidarity against China’s unacceptable behavior and to rally others in Asia and Europe against its growing threat.
John Bolton was National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump in 2018–2019 and U.S. Ambassador to the UN in 2005–2006.