WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida prepare for wide-ranging talks at the White House on Friday as Japan looks to forge security cooperation with allies amid growing concerns over provocative military actions by China and North Korea .
The two governments are also preparing to sign an agreement on Friday to strengthen U.S.-Japan space cooperation, with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi at a signing ceremony.
The Oval Office meeting and signing ceremony at NASA headquarters in Washington will cap off Kishida’s week-long trip to five European and North American capitals for talks on efforts to strengthen Japan’s security.
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It all comes as Japan announced last month plans to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product within five years, a significant increase for a country that took a pacifist approach to defense after World War II expenses. Japan’s defense spending has historically remained below 1% of GDP.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: “Japan is stepping up and moving in step with the United States.”
Blinken said earlier this week that the U.S.-Japan space cooperation framework is “decade in the making” and “covers everything from joint research to working together to put the first woman and person of color on the moon.”
The U.S. and Japan agree that China is their “biggest shared strategic challenge,” he added, affirming that an attack in space would trigger the mutual defense clause in the U.S.-Japan security treaty.
Ahead of Friday’s meeting between the two leaders, U.S. and Japanese officials announced adjustments to the U.S. troop presence on the island of Okinawa, partly to bolster anti-ship capabilities in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or other hostile actions operating in the region. Japan is also strengthening its defenses on its southwestern islands near Taiwan, including Yonaguni and Ishigaki, where new bases are being built.
Japan’s push to boost defense spending and coordination comes amid growing concerns that China could take military action to seize Taiwan and concerns that a surge in North Korean missile tests could herald the isolated nation’s nuclear ambitions.
The meeting with Biden “will be a valuable opportunity to confirm our close cooperation in further strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and our joint efforts to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Kishida said before leaving Japan for his five-nation told reporters. travel.
His meeting with Biden, his last face-to-face in a week of talks with G7 leaders, focused on his efforts to increase Japan’s defense spending and press leaders to improve cooperation.
Kishida also discussed his hopes for improved security cooperation between Japan and their respective countries with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni and French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany is the only G-7 country not on Kishida’s itinerary.
Japan last month announced plans to buy U.S.-made Tomahawks and other long-range cruise missiles that could strike targets in China or North Korea under a more aggressive security strategy, while Japan, Britain and Italy unveiled plans to jointly develop a next-generation jet Plane fighter project of the type aircraft.
“Just a few years ago, Washington would have been a little uncomfortable with Japan having this kind of military capability,” said Chris Johnstone, a former National Security Council official in the Biden administration who is now the center’s Japan chair. Strategic and International Studies. “Those days are gone.”
Biden administration officials praised Japan for standing up after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Japan quickly joined the US and other Western allies in imposing tough sanctions on Moscow, with Japanese automakers Mazda, Toyota and Nissan announcing their withdrawal from Russia.
Biden administration officials have been pleasantly surprised by Japan’s intensified efforts to rethink its security.
A senior administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss negotiations with Japan, noted that negotiations involving the deployment of U.S. forces on Okinawa have historically been “incredibly fraught, incredibly challenging and difficult” and often take years to complete. But the official said negotiations leading up to this week’s meeting had been completed with surprising speed.
Biden is expected to bring the case of Lieutenant Rich Alcornis, a U.S. Navy officer deployed to Japan who pleaded guilty last year to the May 2021 death of two Japanese citizens by negligent driving, the official said was later sentenced to prison.
Alkonis’ family said he fell unconscious behind the wheel during a family trip to Mount Fuji. He veered into parked cars and pedestrians in a parking lot, hitting an elderly woman and her son-in-law, who later died.
The naval officer was sentenced in October to three years in prison, a sentence his family and U.S. lawmakers deemed too harsh given the circumstances. Alkonis also agreed to pay victims $1.65 million in restitution.
The official added that the government was working to “find a compassionate solution consistent with the rule of law.”
Kishida is scheduled to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday ahead of his meeting with Biden.
___ Associated Press writers Tracy Brown in Washington and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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