Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga may not be able to visit the United States for a meeting with new President Joe Biden before spring, according to informed sources.
Suga will seek to boost the Japan-U.S. alliance to check China’s drive for regional hegemony and better cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Last month, he expressed willingness to meet with Biden in February. But the new president is expected to be busy dealing with the political aftermath of the storming of the Capitol by supporters of his predecessor, Donald Trump, and the coronavirus pandemic.
A Japan-U.S. summit is likely to take place “in April or later,” a Japanese government source said.
Suga said in his parliamentary address Monday that he hopes to meet with Biden early to further strengthen U.S.-Japan ties and boost bilateral cooperation over common issues such as the pandemic and climate change.
He plans to have talks with Biden over the phone at the earliest possible opportunity after the presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington and ask Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and other senior officials to visit the U.S. thereafter.
The Japanese government is most interested in the Biden administration’s policies regarding China, which recovered from the coronavirus crisis faster than any other nation and has begun expanding its influence through “vaccine diplomacy,” informed sources said.
China has also been constantly intruding into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands, making the prime minister’s office wary of “unforeseen circumstances” developing, according to a senior staff member of the office.
Meanwhile, Tokyo does not want Beijing-Washington tensions to escalate nor for Biden to call on Japan to move in step with the U.S., because China is a key economic partner for Japan.
The Suga government is also keenly waiting for the Biden administration to hammer out policies on North Korea, at a time when Pyongyang is stepping up nuclear and missile threats.
It is particularly important for Suga to obtain Biden’s cooperation in maintaining U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea and resolving the issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese nationals, people familiar with the situation said.
On bilateral matters, Tokyo is bracing for Washington’s request for Japan to pay more for hosting U.S. troops.
“Chances cannot be ruled out that a defense budget increase will be requested,” a Foreign Ministry source said.
Japan is hoping to dodge such a request by pledging to enhance defense cooperation in space, cyberspace and other new fields, people familiar with the matter said.
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