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China’s rapidly growing military influence and unilateral changing of the status quo could present a risk to Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in an interview, ahead of the first Quad summit.

"The changing power balance brought by the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific, along with the increasing inward focus spurred by the pandemic, have increased uncertainty,” Suga said before the first in-person leaders’ meeting of Quad nations U.S., Australia, India and Japan, which is to be held Friday at the White House.

The group of democracies is seen as trying to balance China’s increasing influence and military might in the region. Beijing has accused the U.S. of trying to form a clique.

China’s changing of the status quo with its military power in the background "could present a risk to our country’s peace and prosperity,” Suga added in the interview on Wednesday.

In response, Japan should strengthen its alliance with the U.S. to bolster deterrence, and also work on increasing its own defensive capabilities, he said, adding it was still important for Japan and China to maintain dialogue.

Suga’s trip to the U.S. will be the swan song of his one-year leadership, with a Sept. 29 election in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party set to pick his successor as leader and therefore prime minister.

Seen as a diplomatic novice when he took over, Suga has presided over a downturn in relations with China, his country’s biggest trading partner. Adding to the tensions have been comments from some senior lawmakers in Suga’s ruling party about the importance of Taiwan to Japan’s security, sparking irritation from Beijing, which sees the island as part of its territory.

High school students take part in a military education and training session in Huaibei, China.  | AFP-JIJI
High school students take part in a military education and training session in Huaibei, China. | AFP-JIJI

The Quad meeting comes as the group’s prospects of cooperating with other nations on regional security were overshadowed by a dispute involving two of its members and France. The so-called AUKUS security partnership between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia is partly intended to enable Australia to obtain nuclear-powered submarines — a plan that some Asian nations have said could spark an arms race in the region.

"Our country hopes for cooperation between related countries,” Suga said, when asked about AUKUS, singling out France as one of the countries with which Japan wants to cooperate. When asked about the dispute among the U.S., Australia and France over the submarine contract, Suga said Group of Seven countries had agreed to work together as allies, and that U.S. President Joe Biden had given a United Nations speech emphasizing the importance of maintaining alliances.

Suga also said that Japan is keeping a close eye on the Taiwan situation.

"Our country is constantly monitoring the change in the military balance between China and Taiwan, among other developments, he said. "We expect the two parties concerned to resolve problems concerning Taiwan by speaking directly.”

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