Japan pledges to support US in opposing China’s ‘coercion’

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the United States and Japan would “oppose” coercion or force in the seas of southern and eastern China, in unusually blunt remarks on China after his summit with Joe Biden.

Speaking alongside the US president at the White House on Friday, Suga said the two leaders had “serious” talks about China and the “harsh security environment” in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We have agreed to oppose any attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas and intimidation of others 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 worried about Chinese actions around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyu.

Suga said the leaders also stressed the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait, in language that underscored growing concern in the United States and Japan over the increase in Chinese military activity around the ‘Isle.

He added that the two leaders also “reaffirmed” the recent statement their senior defense and foreign policy officials 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 on Taiwan were the most assertive by a Japanese leader since the United States and Japan both transferred diplomatic recognition. of China from Taipei to Beijing in the 1970s.

“There has been a lot more nod to the Taiwan issue than we have seen at a US-Japan summit since 1969,” he said, referring to the summit that Richard Nixon held. 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 “determined to work together to address China’s challenges,” including the East and South China Seas.

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

Japan has grown worried about Taiwan since any US-Chinese conflict on the island would result in Tokyo due to its mutual defense treaty with Washington.

A senior US official recently told the Financial Times that Washington feared China was flirting with invading Taiwan, which Beijing claims to be 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 such language has been included since the Nixon-Sato meeting.

In the statement, the leaders said they also shared “serious concerns about the human rights situation” in Hong Kong where China has cracked down on the pro-democracy movement and also in the northwestern province of Hong Kong. Xinjiang.

The White House had pushed Suga to voice support for Taiwan ahead of the summit, but Japanese officials were divided over whether to agree to refer to the island during his visit to the United States. Some argued that the recent Tokyo declaration sent a pretty strong signal to China, while others said Japan should demonstrate a united front with the United States.

Suga was the first foreign leader to visit Biden since joining the White House in January, stressing the importance the United States places on relations with Japan as part of its broader strategy to counter China.

Before the summit, China warned Japan to avoid getting involved in the “confrontation” between Washington and Beijing.

In addition to targeting China, Suga said he would push to bolster Tokyo’s defense capabilities and strengthen US-Japan deterrence.

“China has embarked on massive military build-up in Japan’s backyard – while increasingly threatening territory that Japan sees as its own. Yet Japanese defense budgets have remained remarkably low, at 1 percent of gross domestic product, ”said Jennifer Lind, Asian security expert at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “China’s dangers mean that Japan simply needs to do more. And Suga’s statement suggests it will.

To pursue Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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