Mr. Suga goes to Washington

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Originally published by Japan Forward

If Japan does not develop its own defenses into a serious force able to operate with the Americans (and the QUAD), U.S. promises – and even its actions – may not be enough to defend the Senkakus, and beyond.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be meeting President Biden on April 16.

His stated objectives: discuss China, North Korea, Taiwan, climate change, and the corona virus, and strengthen the US-Japan relationship. But Suga, like his recent predecessors, really has just one main objective in Washington: to keep the United States on the hook to defend Japan.

No matter that Suga and the Japanese government have already gotten this promise three times from President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Austin.

He wants to hear it again. Sort of like some gal asking, “do you love me?” every five minutes. If she’s asking, she ain’t sure.

Now, one sort of understands why Suga keeps asking.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) intends to settle old scores and put Japan in its place ー this has been obvious for years. Meanwhile, pressure from Chinese naval, coast guard, and maritime militia around Japan’s Senkaku Islands has become increasingly hard for the Japan Coast Guard and Self Defense Force to contain.

Even worse, the PRC recently passed a law authorizing the China Coast Guard to shoot at ships trespassing in Chinese waters. And since the Senkakus and surrounding seas are – to Beijing’s mind – Chinese territory…well…Tokyo should get the message.

Beijing was, however, kind enough to say that it will restrain itself, for the time being.

Without American support or the possibility of it, China would likely have already moved to occupy the Senkakus and dare the Japanese to do something about it.

So one understands the urgency (even if unstated) Japan feels to ensure Washington will defend Japan.

Setting the Scene

Suga’s visit will of course be cordial, and both sides will declare the U.S.-Japan alliance “based on shared mutual values,” has “never been stronger,” “underpins regional security,” and both sides are “in lock step.”

However, Chinese military and economic strength, and self-confidence (even if overweening) have reached a point that Washington’s declarations of commitment may have less deterrent effect than in years past.

The Suga-Biden talks may yield an impressive string of platitudes and promises to cooperate on climate change and COVID-19, and to keep consulting on threats to regional security. These, however, are low-hanging fruit.

What Japan wants more than anything is a promise of U.S. firepower – though it doesn’t seem to realize that improving its own military capabilities would enhance what U.S. forces have to offer.

So in an ideal world – which this one isn’t – a meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister and the U.S. President would produce tangible measures to strengthen capabilities needed to deter the PRC – and if necessary defeat the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

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