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IFANS Focus An Overview of the Biden-Suga Summit and Outlook JO Yanghyeon Upload Date 2021-06-18 Hits 602
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On April 16, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide held their first face-to-face summit meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss bilateral relations, regional and global issues and issued a joint statement. The first in-person meeting of the leaders of the two countries went beyond conventional summit talks as the two heads of state coordinated policies on the Japan-U.S. alliance, China and North Korea issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a broad array of issues shaping the regional order.  

The summit holds great significance as the leaders of the two countries met in person for the first time despite the pandemic and agreed to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is underpinned by mutual cooperation and the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. They exchanged views on the impact of China’s actions on peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world and reaffirmed their shared interest in a free and open South China Sea. The Biden administration has made it clear that it will formulate policies to keep China in check; the administration has officially announced that it will inherit its predecessor’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). Japan, for its part, has expressed its willingness to work with the U.S. to counter China. 

The joint statement, just like the one issued after the U.S.–Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC) (“U.S.-Japan 2+2”), reflects a strong shared sense of crisis about Chinese behavior and Japan’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. on the matter. With regards to Taiwan, which has long been the most volatile issue between the U.S. and China, the two leaders underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.

The biggest difference between the 2+2 meeting joint statement and the statement issued after the Biden-Suga summit is that the latter includes various and detailed policies to check China in the field of “economic security,” a content rarely included in statements released after U.S.-Japan summit talks. In addition, President Biden and Prime Minister Suga have launched a new Competitiveness and Resilience (CoRe) Partnership, which will focus on i) competitiveness and innovation, ii) COVID-19 response, global health, and health security, and iii) climate change, clean energy, and green growth and recovery. Both sides agreed to collaborate to enhance the two countries’ competitiveness, individually and together, by deepening cooperation in research and technology development in life sciences and biotechnology, artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences, and civil space. President Biden and Prime Minister Suga affirmed their commitment to the security and openness of 5th generation (5G) wireless networks and concurred that it is important to rely on trustworthy vendors. They also agreed to partner on sensitive supply chains, including on semi-conductors, promoting and protecting the critical technologies essential to their security and prosperity. 

The outcomes of the Biden-Suga summit indicate that the U.S.-China strategic competition, which began in earnest in the second half of President Trump’s term in office, will continue to be a defining feature of U.S.-China relations under the Biden administration. The Biden administration’s China policy is likely to focus on three areas: traditional security issues including military prowess; economic security; and universal values and ideologies like human rights and democracy. What we can extrapolate from the outcomes of the recent summit meeting is that the Biden administration, framing the current moment in world politics as a choice between democracy and autocracy, will likely rely on universal values like freedom, human rights, and democracy as a means of building an alliance to keep China in check.

And to clarify the roles of the two countries in the event of a military clash in the Taiwan Strait, discussions on the use of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, as well as the application of Japan’s security laws, are expected to take place soon. In particular, as U.S. security experts are re-examining Japan’s strategic value in defending the East China Sea, specifically the Taiwan Strait, Washington, and Tokyo, and are likely to discuss holding joint military exercises on the premise that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces could intervene in such incidents as “grey zone” events in the Taiwan Strait and the Senkaku Islands, by providing logistics support to U.S. forces and protecting ships and related facilities. Furthermore, the Biden administration could demand the deployment of intermediate-range missiles on Japanese soil and the expansion of joint operations in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. 

The ever-intensifying strategic competition between the U.S. and China could drift countries towards a new Cold War in the field of military and economic security, referring to a rivalry between the U.S-led bloc comprising Japan and the EU and the opposing bloc formed by China and Russia. It is forecast that the Biden administration will capitalize on the U.S.-Japan alliance, the ROK-U.S. alliance, and the Quad to cement solidarity with U.S. allies and partners in the military and non-military sectors. While the U.S.-Europe relationship, which had soured during the Trump era, has improved rapidly since the inauguration of the Biden administration, China-Europe relations are drifting away from traditional ties focused primarily on economic cooperation towards confrontation over universal values such as human rights and democracy. It is therefore expected that Europe will pursue deeper engagement in Indo-Pacific affairs. With China currently rallying anti-U.S. forces and strengthening its military offensive around Taiwan to counter U.S.-led efforts to “encircle” China, the relationship between the two great powers will likely head for confrontation at least for the time being. 

As agreed at the summit, there is a possibility that the U.S. and Japan will reorganize the supply chain, leaving China out to promote economic security. And a battle among the U.S., China, and Japan to dominate international standards in emerging technologies could unfold in the coming years. With countries around the world preserving a high degree of economic interdependence with China, the global economy would inevitably face a period of turbulence and transition if Washington and Tokyo push full steam ahead with their plans to cut China out of global supply chains. And the U.S. and Japan might attempt to form an exclusive group of countries by each sector to dominate R&D activities across key sectors like Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, and cybersecurity and rebuild the global strategic materials supply chain. An exclusive group of nations, once formed, would allow members to monopolize information and investment opportunities while restricting other countries’ opportunities to freely participate in the market. 

As part of an effort to manage U.S. alliances, the Biden administration is expected to ramp up pressure on Korea and Japan to repair the relationship between these two U.S. allies – often referred to as a “weak link” in Washington’s Asia strategy. Taking the inauguration of the Biden administration as an opportunity to restore Korea-Japan relations, the Korean government should consider approaching Japan with an all-in-one package to address Japan’s export restrictions, normalize GSOMIA and bolster Korea-U.S.-Japan security cooperation. 

When dealing with North Korea, while “complete denuclearization” of the North must remain the ultimate objective, contemplating a long-term roadmap of sequential steps that leads all the way to complete denuclearization is also important. Also, South Korea should step once again into the role of mediator between the U.S. and the North to reaffirm Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize. Moreover, efforts should be made to achieve synergy between the New Southern Policy and the Indo-Pacific strategies pursued by the U.S. and Japan. Particular focus should be on providing additional support to the development of infrastructure in ASEAN member states and making more contributions to promote maritime security in the region. Furthermore, Korea should consider joining the Quad on a selective basis by joining the Quad member states’ efforts at advancing non-military agendas.

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  #USJapanRelations #NorthKorea #KoreaUSJapan #Taiwan #IndoPacific
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