Prime Minister Kishida calls for greater Japanese presence amid China’s growing influence

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TOKYO, Japan – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that Japan, the U.S., and the Philippines will collaborate in areas such as semiconductors, digitalization, communication networks, clean energy, and critical minerals. This comes ahead of a historic three-way summit in Washington next week.

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Kishida stated that the world is entering a “new phase”. He emphasized that Japan needs to show a bigger presence and “take greater responsibility”. This is particularly important for providing options for Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines.

Kishida’s comments follow a recent survey by a Singapore-based think tank. The survey revealed that over half of the people in Southeast Asia would prefer to align with China over the U.S. This would be the case if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was forced to choose between the two superpowers.

Kishida expressed the need for the U.S. to remain engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. He acknowledged the reality of China’s increasing presence in the region. He also noted that other countries expect Japan to increase its presence. This would provide an attractive alternative for Asian countries in areas where Japan is strong, allowing them to make the best choice for themselves.

Kishida is set to hold a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the U.S. capital on April 11. This will be the first such summit by the three countries. It is designed to demonstrate their strong partnership in tackling regional challenges, including an increasingly assertive China. Kishida will also hold separate talks with Biden the day before.

Regarding the dispute over Nippon Steel’s proposed acquisition of U.S. Steel, Kishida said it will not be on the agenda when he meets with Biden. He stated, “It is a matter for private companies”. However, he added that Japan is the biggest investor in the United States and is responsible for a significant portion of U.S. employment.

Nippon Steel agreed to buy U.S. Steel for $14 billion in December. However, the outlook for the deal is now uncertain due to Biden’s opposition. Donald Trump, who is running for the presidency again, has also promised to block the deal if elected.

Kishida described the bilateral economic partnership with the U.S. as a “win-win” arrangement. He called on Washington to further strengthen the relationship. He emphasized, “It is important for Japan and the U.S. to work toward maintaining and strengthening a free, open and rules-based economic order.”

Japan, the U.S., and the Philippines are exploring collaborations in various sectors. This includes the development of semiconductor facilities by U.S. companies in the Philippines, with Japan assisting in training Filipino engineers. They are also considering the development of 5G networks in the Philippines.

The hope of Tokyo and Washington is that these initiatives will help the Philippines grow its economy without depending on Chinese technologies.

The countries are likely to discuss collaboration in cybersecurity to counter threats from China. They may also discuss the development of supply chains for nickel, a crucial metal for electric vehicle batteries, given the Philippines’ role as a nickel producer. The trilateral partnership aims to strengthen the countries’ economic and national security and address global challenges like climate change.

Kishida stated that Tokyo and Washington have a significant role in this regard. He said, “Japan and the United States will work together to develop a sustainable supply chain in the clean energy field for the common goal of achieving economic growth and decarbonization.”

On the same day as the trilateral meeting, Kishida will address a joint session of Congress. This is the first such address by a Japanese leader since then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s in 2015.

The Kishida-Biden summit is happening as Japan’s economy is emerging from three decades of stagnation. Japan’s benchmark stock index has hit an all-time high, businesses are promising their biggest pay raises in 33 years, and the Bank of Japan is raising interest rates for the first time in 17 years.

Kishida stated that Japan is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses are shifting from cost-cutting to a virtuous cycle of increasing investment and growth. He said, “We are having the biggest opportunity in 30 years” to break free from slow growth and inflation. He considers seizing this opportunity and getting the economy right as “a very important mission for my government.”

Kishida’s visit to Washington comes at a time of growing geopolitical tensions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has entered its third year, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza seems to be escalating, and China and the Philippines are still locked in confrontation over the South China Sea.

Tokyo and Washington are strengthening their partnership and cooperation with other like-minded countries to maintain regional security and promote key global goals such as achieving net-zero emissions.

This year is crucial for both Kishida and Biden. Kishida faces a leadership contest in his Liberal Democratic Party in September and is expected to call general elections this year. Biden is campaigning for re-election against Trump in November in what is expected to be a close race.