Amid rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific, Biden seeks to reaffirm US-Japan relations with the invitation of Prime Minister Suga to the White House.
– Jaime Ocon, Taiwan Center for Security Studies
Indeed as President Obama did so in 2009, inviting then Prime Minister Taro Aso to the White House, the United States is once again demonstrating to the international community its deep-rooted relationship with Japan. In an era marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing tensions with China in both the South and East China Seas, unilateralism can no longer suffice as an approach to global cooperation. The announcement of Prime Minister Suga and President Biden’s meeting comes at a time where both leaders could meet again in the first QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) meeting later today. And if that wasn’t enough, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also plan to make trips to Tokyo and Seoul, respectively.
Not only are these meetings a confirmation of the US’ commitment to strengthening ties in the Indo-Pacific, but also a revitalization of multilateralism which was kept dormant under former president Donald Trump. Members of QUAD are set to hold a joint summit discussing issues relating to COVID-19 vaccine distribution , climate change, and other security challenges that face the Indo-Pacific region as a whole. This organization of global powers is nothing new, but the timing of such a large scale event is something that other states like China and Russia look at with suspicion. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quick to criticize the idea of “group politics” in a statement given on Sunday. “Multilateralism with one’s own interests taking precedence is still unilateral thinking , and “selective multilateralism” is not the right choice”. (Xinhua).
Earlier last month , foreign representatives from the members of QUAD organized an online meeting which concluded in a commitment that all states will strive towards ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific. There has also been some push for a QUAD+, for the organization to include other US partners in the region (such as South Korea, New Zealand, etc.). However, to achieve practical and meaningful results in any sphere, the organization must first find its footing in a common vision.
Japan and the United States both see the QUAD as a means to deter Chinese encroachments in the East and South China sea, otherwise changing the status quo by way of coercion. Geo-politically speaking, Japan faces the greatest immediate challenge due to its close proximity towards China and their shared history of past conflicts. Starting February, a change to China’s coast guard laws will allow it to use weapons against any foreign ships that it deems are “trespassing”. A move that no doubt raises the chances of escalation , especially maritime disputes in an area surrounded by countries with ample military capabilities. Secretary Blinken in his first major policy speech made it abundantly clear that “dealing with China will be the biggest geopolitical test”, as the Biden administration will have to focus on rekindling alliances around the world. QUAD will thus play an insurmountable role in both the US attempts to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and will serve as a platform for cooperation with other states to promote security and stability in the region.