Japan promises to support the US in opposing China’s “coercion”

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the United States and the United States Japan would “oppose” coercion or force in the South and East Seas of China, in unusually blunt comments about China after its summit with Joe Biden.

Speaking alongside the President of the United States at the White House on Friday, Suck He said the two leaders had held “serious” discussions about China and the “severe security environment” in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We agreed to oppose any attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas and the intimidation of other people in the region,” Suga said.

The United States and Japan are concerned about Chinese military activity near Taiwan in the South China Sea. They are also concerned about Chinese actions around the Illes Senkaku in the East China Sea which are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, which calls them Diaoyu.

Suga said leaders also stressed the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait, in a language that highlighted growing concern in the U.S. and Japan about increase in Chinese military activity around the island.

He said the two leaders had also “reaffirmed” the recent statement that their top defense and foreign policy officials had made in Tokyo on “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Michael Green, a Japanese expert at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington, said Suga’s comments about Taiwan were the most affirmative of a Japanese leader since the United States and Japan changed China’s diplomatic recognition. from Taipei to Beijing in the 1970s.

“There were many more nods to the Taiwan issue than we have seen at a U.S.-Japan summit since 1969,” he said, referring to the summit Richard Nixon held with Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.

Green added that Suga’s statement about opposing unilateral efforts to change the status quo reflected a phrase the United States has used about Taiwan since the George W. Bush administration.

At the press conference, Biden said the United States and Japan were “committed to working together to meet China’s challenges,” including the East and South China Seas.

Earlier this week, the Chinese Air Force flew 25 fighter jets, bombers and surveillance aircraft into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, a record intrusion.

Japan is worried that it will worry more and more Taiwan since any conflict between the United States and China over the island would be drawn in Tokyo because of the mutual defense treaty with Washington.

A senior US official recently told the Financial Times that Washington was concerned that China was flirting with the idea of ​​invading Taiwan, which Beijing claims is part of its sovereign territory.

In addition to Suga’s comments at the press conference, the leaders reiterated their concern in a joint statement released after the summit, the first time the language has been included since the Nixon-Sato meeting.

In the statement, the leaders said they also shared “serious concerns about human rights situations” in Hong Kong, where China has repressed the pro-democracy movement and also in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

The White House had pushed Suga to voice support for Taiwan before the summit, but Japanese officials were divided over whether he should agree to refer to the island during his visit to the US. Some argued that the recent statement in Tokyo had sent a strong enough signal to China, while others said Japan should demonstrate a united front with the US.

Suga was the first foreign leader to visit Biden since entering the White House in January, and stressed the importance the United States attaches to relations with Japan as part of its broader strategy to combat China.

Prior to the summit, China had warned Japan not to participate in the “confrontation” between Washington and Beijing.

In addition to targeting China, Suga said he would push to strengthen Tokyo’s defense capabilities and strengthen deterrence between the United States and Japan.

“China has been involved in a massive military buildup in Japan’s backyard, while making it increasingly dangerous territory that Japan sees as its own. However, Japanese defense budgets have remained at a remarkably low level. , with 1% of gross domestic product, ”said Jennifer Lind, an Asian security expert at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “China’s dangers mean that Japan simply has to do more. And Suga’s statement suggests yes. “

Carry on Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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