Kishida starts visit to US with alarming military ambition
Published: Apr 09, 2024 09:07 PM Updated: Apr 09, 2024 11:35 PM
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on November 2, 2023. Photo: VCG

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on November 2, 2023. Photo: VCG

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in Washington, US for the first state visit by a Japanese leader in nine years, with full ambition to reinforce alliance with the US. Analysts warned that Japanese government's steps to alter pacifism are dangerous and its hyping of "China threat" won't successfully conceal its military ambitions. Rather than being a foundation of peace in the Asia-Pacific the US-Japan alliance is a primary destabilizing factor that undermines regional peace.

According to an itinerary released by Japanese media, Kishida is set to meet with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday in Washington. On Thursday, he will address a joint session of the US Congress, and, together with Biden, hold a trilateral summit with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. before returning to Japan on Sunday. Kishida also plans to go to visit a new battery plant under construction of Toyota and Honda's business jet subsidiary in North Carolina.

Kishida's visit to the US is the first state visit by a Japanese leader after former prime minister Shinzo Abe paid an official visit in 2015. As the fifth state guest of Biden - who has also hosted leaders of India, Australia, South Korea and France - Kishida will be welcomed in a White House arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, a formal state dinner and other official events, according to the Associated Press. 

When arriving in the US, Kishida was received by a delegation led by US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel. While Japanese media stressed the special arrangements of the red-carpet welcoming ceremony for Kishida, some Japanese netizens said that by having no high-level officials receiving Kishida, it makes the "state visit" more like a propaganda toward domestic Japanese audience.

The primary goal of Kishida's visit to the US is to further deepen the alliance with the US and reinforce the pivotal role of this partnership in addressing global issues, Lü Yaodong, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

According to a report from Kyodo news on Tuesday, the theme of Kishida's speech on Thursday is likely to be "future-oriented," and it is believed that he will stress how the partnership between Japan and the US is crucial to maintaining "a free and open international order." 

In contrast to Abe's state visit to the US in 2015, when Japan aimed to strengthen the Japan-US alliance while highlighting the transition from a defeated nation in World War II to a close ally to the US, Kishida's objective is to underscore the global significance of the US-Japan partnership, Lü said. He noted that by aligning with the US "Indo-Pacific Strategy," Japan can also bolster its military buildup as well as its influence in the international community. 

During Abe's stay in the US in 2015, Japan and the US updated their defense cooperation guidelines for the first time in 18 years, which eliminated geographic restrictions to the Japan's self-defense force, causing worries over a major change of Japan's World War II pacifist constitution, observers said.

Reinforcing military relations will most likely top Kishida's agenda in the US. Xiang Haoyu, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, noted that during their meeting, Kishida and Biden may discuss to significantly revise the US-Japan Security Treaty, which may involve restructuring the command of US forces stationed in Japan and enhancing joint operational planning and exercises between the two countries.

"This adjustment could be the most substantial alteration in the security relationship between the two countries since the treaty's inception," Xiang told the Global Times. 

Xiang said that one of Kishida's purposes for this US visit is to achieve a more balanced status for Japan within the alliance with the US. Previously, the relationship leaned toward US dominance, but now Japan is taking a more proactive stance, urging the US to offer more support. 

Lü noted that Biden and Kishida may also discuss the establishment of a mechanism for jointly developing defense equipment. Japan, previously constrained by its pacifist constitution, is now pursuing military cooperation with other countries and exploring arms exports.

Additionally, as Japan seeks to enhance its striking capabilities and plans to establish a permanent joint headquarters overseeing its ground, maritime, and air self-defense forces, Kishida may also talk with Biden about the coordination between this headquarters and the command of US forces stationed in Japan, said Lü.

Troublemaker alliance 

The US-Japan alliance has transcended mere military cooperation and it encompasses political, security, and economic ties. Currently, the US is actively rallying its Asian allies, including Japan and the Philippines, to form small coalitions aimed at collectively containing China, and Japan has actively cooperated with the US and also played the role of a go-between to link these US allies, analysts said. 

Biden and Kishida are also reportedly set to confirm that the bilateral alliance will continue reinforcing its networked relations with "like-minded partners" including Australia and Britain. Moreover, the two leaders may also discuss Japan's participation in AUKUS, according to media reports. 

While Kishida has pursued to strengthen Japan's military capabilities by emphasizing the alliance with the US, he hyped concerns about the "China threat" to divert attention and criticism, and to justify Japan's military expansion, analysts said. 

Kishida claimed, in an interview with CNN on Sunday, that "there is unilateral attempt to change the status quo, by force, in both the East China Sea and South China Sea" and building Japan's deterrence is "essential" for the alliance with the US.  

Some analysts said Japan's use of other countries' "threats" as a cover for its military ambitions is spurious. The resurgence of militarism in Japan has raised concerns among both Japanese citizens and those in other Asian countries.

Lü said that Japan has shed the facade of pacifism adopted World War II and is openly bolstering its military capabilities. Given Japan's infamous wartime atrocities and the immense suffering it brought to Asian peoples, its recent actions are alarming to regional countries and will introduce further uncertainty to the region.

Contrary to being a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, the US-Japan alliance is also increasingly viewed as a primary destabilizing force, said Lü.