GP Insights # 505, 18 April 2021
On 16 April, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and American President Joe Biden met for the first time in Washington, where the two leaders discussed their bilateral issues and matters of mutual interest. China topped the meeting agenda as the two leaders explored policy options and a suitable course of action to handle the challenges created by China's aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Human rights abuse in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and aggression in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan were the main focus of the meeting. President Biden said: "We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific."
What is the background?
First, the Taiwan issue. The meeting between Suga and Biden comes soon after 25 Chinese aircrafts, including fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers, trespassed into Taiwan's air defence identification zone (AIDZ) on 12 April. This incursion is the largest in 2021 and occurred a day after US Secretary of State expressed concerns regarding China's aggression towards Taiwan. In 2021, China entered Taiwan's seas and air space multiple times, pushing the country and other foreign powers to condemn its actions strongly. China has also been intermittently patrolling the water around the Senkaku islands, which Japan, China and Taiwan claim. China's increased interference in Taiwan is also partly due to Taipei's fast approach towards a formal declaration of independence from China.
Second, counter-balancing China. In the past decade, Japan has witnessed an increasing presence of China in the Indo-Pacific region. Other than its claim of the nine-dash-line, China has invested heavily in the countries in the region. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also played an essential role in establishing China as a dependable superpower in the region. Thus, in the past few years, Japan's foreign policy has focused on countering China's unprecedented rise. Japan has conducted multiple meetings with European and Western countries such as Germany, France, UK, and the US, aiming to strengthen its relationship with its allies to present a fortified defence against China and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Third, the significance of the Indo-Pacific in the US foreign policy. The meeting also took place a month after Biden convened a meeting with the Quad members where the main agenda was countering China's unparalleled rise. The first cabinet-level foreign visit of the US also took place in Japan and South Korea. In the 100 days after taking office, there is a visible shift in the US foreign policy from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific.
What does this mean?
China does not welcome a heightened interest of the US in the Indo-Pacific. However, the US has a duty towards Japan in protecting it from foreign aggression. It is also in US interests to slow down China's progress in the global economy to ensure America's status as a superpower. However, the interference of the US may instigate China to further antagonize its neighbours by showcasing its military prowess. The probability of China fastening its hold over Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan remains high in the coming years.