Biden, Japan PM boost defense ties with eye on China

Danny Kemp - Agence France-Presse
Biden, Japan PM boost defense ties with eye on China
US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida walk along the colonnade to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 10, 2024.
AFP / Kevin Lamarque / Pool

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled their countries' biggest ever upgrade in defense ties Wednesday during a White House state visit focused on countering a resurgent China.

Biden rolled out the red carpet for Kishida with a lavish dinner, plus music by US singer Paul Simon, as he underscored Japan's importance as a key ally against Beijing in the Asia-Pacific region.

The two leaders even agreed that a Japanese astronaut will be the first non-American to walk on the Moon, as they sought to take the alliance to new heights.

"This is the most significant upgrade in our alliance since it was first established," Biden, 81, told a press conference with Kishida in the White House Rose Garden.

The two leaders unveiled plans to restructure the US military command in Japan, the biggest such change since the 1960s. The move is aimed at making US and Japanese forces more nimble in the event of threats, such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

The United States, Japan and Australia would also launch a joint air defense network, while Britain would take part in military exercises with Washington and Tokyo.

US officials said the broader boost in ties was also aimed at reassuring allies of long-term support even if Donald Trump beats Biden in November's US presidential election.

'Purely defensive'

The moves come amid tensions about Beijing's claims over both Taiwan and huge swathes of the South China Sea, despite efforts by Washington to reduce the risk of conflict.

Biden insisted that the military upgrade in China's backyard was purely defensive and "not aimed at any one nation or a threat to the region."

Kishida meanwhile called during the press conference for "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Straits.

"Unilateral attempts to change status quo by force or coercion is absolutely unacceptable, wherever it may be," the Japanese premier said.

Biden has made no bones about his desire to create alliances across the region to counter China.

On Thursday, he will host the first trilateral summit between Japan, the Philippines and the United States, aiming to deepen their alliances.

The pomp-filled state visit for Kishida was however also meant to underscore the broader cultural and economic relations between two allied nations who were at war 80 years ago.

Biden announced that a Japanese person will be the first non-American to walk on the Moon, flying on a US mission due to take place in a few years' time.

The leaders also announced deals for technology, including artificial intelligence and the economy.


The rest of Wednesday will be dedicated to extravagant hosting of 66-year-old Kishida and his wife Yuko.

Guests at the White House state dinner include actor Robert DeNiro, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and former president Bill Clinton and ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the White House said.

Sitting at tables decorated by fans and cherry blossom branches, guests will tuck into house-cured salmon, dry-aged rib eye with wasabi sauce, and salted caramel pistachio cake with cherry ice cream.

After dinner, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" star Simon will perform a selection of songs.

First Lady Jill Biden said during a preview of the dinner that it would celebrate the "flourishing" US-Japan friendship.

"Our nations are partners in a world where we choose creation over destruction, peace over bloodshed, and democracy over autocracy," she said.

Kishida is the first Japanese leader to get a US state visit since Shinzo Abe in 2015, and only the fifth world leader to receive one since Biden took office in 2021.

Four of those have been Asian leaders, reflecting Biden's strategic priorities even as he wrestles with wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

Staunchly pacifist for decades, Japan has in recent years made "some of the most significant, momentous changes" since World War II, US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said ahead of the visit.

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