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Biden aims to reassure Japan amid China’s growing shadow

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japan news– Joe Biden, who looks certain to be the next U.S. president, apparently aimed to keep China in check by affirming that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

Biden made the remark during his first phone talks with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday.

It was Biden who brought up the Senkakus after Suga called for a stronger Japan-U.S. alliance. Biden criticized China for its aggressive provocations around the Senkaku Islands. He went on to say his administration would commit to applying to the Senkakus the security treaty’s Article 5, which obliges the United States to respond if Japan comes under attack.

Regarding Biden’s remarks, a Japanese government official present when Suga held the conversation said he was pleasantly surprised that the issue was addressed right away by the U.S. side.

 

The Japanese side had intended to focus on congratulating Biden for his victory in the U.S. presidential election and building a personal relationship between Suga and Biden during the phone talks. So in the beginning of their conversation, Suga did not specifically mention the Senkakus.

“We had been prepared to bring up the issue as a card to play, depending on the flow of their conversation,” a senior Japanese government official said.

After the talks, a senior Foreign Ministry official welcomed Biden’s remarks, saying: “The policy agenda was in complete alignment. It’s perfect.”

Biden is believed to have wanted to warn China by demonstrating a strong posture toward the Japan-U.S. alliance as Beijing has repeatedly taken to employing intimidating military actions not only near the Senkaku Islands, but also in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea and elsewhere. He also apparently intended to reassure Japan and other U.S. partners in Asia.

“Biden must have been briefed well by his aides,” a senior Japanese government official said.

Biden’s foreign policy advisers include former senior officials who served in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama when Biden was the vice president. Among them are former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, a former national security adviser to Biden.

As these people are familiar with Japan’s concerns and the situation in East Asia, the Japanese government has made efforts to communicate its position on various issues, with people such as senior Foreign Ministry officials taking advantage of the U.S. diplomatic channels they had in the past.

These former U.S. senior officials, however, failed to curb China’s hegemonic moves as the Obama administration placed priority on Washington’s relationship with Beijing. The Obama administration initially frustrated Tokyo by not declaring Washington’s commitment to applying the security treaty to the Senkaku Islands.

In September 2010, after a fishing boat from China collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkakus, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally referred to the application of the security treaty regarding the islands.

Some government officials are concerned about the negative impact from U.S. President Donald Trump’s prolonged contesting of the presidential election results.

“If there is a delay in U.S. action during the transition, China could accelerate its provocations,” said a source connected to the Japan-U.S. relationship.

After the phone talks with Suga, Biden’s transition team released a statement, saying Biden “underscored his deep commitment to the defense of Japan and U.S. commitments under Article 5.”

By bringing this issue to the forefront, Biden apparently believes that sending such a clear message early will serve his interests