In his first diplomatic conversation with the new Japanese Prime Minister, President-elect Joe Biden committed the U.S. to Japan’s defense of its disputed islands with China. It was a clear and early warning to China that a new team is in charge. As a part of the transition, Biden spoke to his counterparts in Japan, South Korea and Australia, establishing relationships and setting priorities.
The Japanese government recently underwent its own significant transition as record-serving (8 years) Prime Minister Shinzō Abe resigned on October 10 and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party selected Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga.
The Associated Press (11-13-20) reported Biden and Suga hit the key diplomatic points, considerably different than reported phone calls with foreign leaders from President Trump early in his term. It was clear Biden had been well briefed on the issues.
- Importance of U.S.-Japan alliance and how to strengthen it
- Focus on climate change, promote democracy, and work for a prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific region with like-minded countries that share concerns about China
- Shared view that China’s influence and North Korea’s nuclear trust are prime challenges. Most importantly, he offered a strong U.S. commitment to support Japan’s territorial rights to islands disputed with China.
Suga doesn’t have much foreign policy experience, but has been assisting Abe and his agenda for many years. Biden is not known for his relationship with Asia and Japan beyond his broad foreign policy experiences in the Senate and White House. So, the initial conversation was closely examined. Japan’s foreign policy senior officials were pleased with the alignment of values. Also, they believe Biden wanted to send a message of reassurance to other allies and a warning to potential adversaries that existing treaties are lines not to be crossed.