Senior Vice President for Asia, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 09, 2023
When Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visits Washington, D.C. later this week as part of his European and North American visit, his focus will very much be on coordinating Japan’s stepped-up approach to regional security. The Prime Minister arrives in Washington at a time when U.S.-Japan relations have achieved a high note. The Biden administration’s emphasis on improving relations with U.S. friends and allies has been a boon to Prime Minister Kishida’s efforts to balance the changing security dynamics in East Asia, while the myriad of bilateral and regional dialogues speaks to the positive momentum in the overall relationship.
Japan has been keen to draw the United States closer to Asia as a strategic counterweight to China, but also as an integral part of the broader Asia security and economic landscape. Kishida has emphasized the role of U.S. economic leadership, both as an investor and as a driver of rules-based and safe and secure trade in the Indo-Pacific. That emphasis has been a primary factor in driving Japan’s support for the Indo Pacific Economic Framework, notwithstanding its clearly stated preference for a U.S. return to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Japan is eager to build a genuine partnership with the United States, one based on shared values, trust, and a commitment to safe and secure supply chains.
The United States has warmly embraced Japan’s approach, but the Biden administration has been conflicted by its desire to expand American leadership with a desire to safeguard more narrow domestic interests. As a result, the administration is sending mixed signals to Japan and other allies about its commitment to genuine partnership over economic security, including in steel and electric vehicles, for example. This is creating real concerns in Japan about the extent to which the administration’s “friends and allies” policy is more than rhetorical.
There is much that the first and third largest economies can do together to build a more safe, secure, transparent system of economic engagement, whether that be through collaborative private sector efforts, or working on coordinated approaches to technology export controls and cross-border investment. Last week, the Chamber’s U.S.-Japan Business Council was honored to host Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura for a robust discussion on these issues ahead of Prime Minister Kishida’s visit.
When the two leaders meet, President Biden should reaffirm that the U.S.-Japan relationship is a comprehensive alliance, one based on the broadest strategic and economic priorities. As the most important security relationship, the U.S.-Japan alliance should be evolving with deliberate speed to formalize the secure economic partnership between the two countries. This week offers a critical opportunity to advance that partnership.
About the authors
Charles Freeman, senior vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been helping companies navigate complex markets in the Asia-Pacific for 25 years. His career included senior stints in government, business, law, and academia, giving him a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities in the world’s most dynamic region.