New Prime Minister Fumio Kishida got off to a quick start in the diplomatic arena on his first full day in office Tuesday, holding telephone talks with two of the three other leaders of “the Quad” and reaffirming Japan’s commitment to the grouping.

In Kishida’s talks with U.S. President Joe Biden, the White House said that Biden hoped to strengthen the alliance “given the critical role” the two countries play in advancing “a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, including through the Quad.”

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue groups four major Indo-Pacific democracies — Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. In their first in-person summit late last month, the leaders of the four countries vowed to be “undaunted by coercion,” presenting a united front amid shared concerns over growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Kishida, who holds the record as Japan’s longest-serving top diplomat, also held telephone talks with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison later in the day, with the pair pledging to deepen bilateral ties and cooperation within the Quad framework.

In a statement released by Japan’s Foreign Ministry that did not explicitly mention Beijing, the two leaders also voiced strong opposition to “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China seas and economic intimidation.”

In Kishida’s talks with Biden, the U.S. leader also reaffirmed Washington’s “strong” commitment to defending the Japanese-controlled, Chinese-claimed Senkaku Islands as Beijing continues its ramped-up activities near the islets.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington on Monday. | REUTERS
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington on Monday. | REUTERS

Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty says that the U.S. will defend territories under Tokyo’s administration from armed attack, and reaffirming this commitment is usually one of the first things Japanese leaders seek in talks with their American counterparts.

After his election in January, Biden and other senior administration officials were quick to reaffirm that Washington would follow through on Article 5 in the event of an attack, doing so in calls with Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, and other top Japanese officials.

In recent months, Beijing has repeatedly sent government vessels near the uninhabited islands in what some observers say is a campaign to test and slowly erode Japan’s response to the incursions while normalizing the Chinese presence.

Kishida and Biden also agreed to work toward “a world without nuclear weapons,” a stance that holds special significance for the new Japanese leader, whose family hails from the city of Hiroshima. Suga avoided making such a pledge in his Aug. 6 speech marking the 76th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city in 1945.

The two leaders will bolster the U.S.-Japan alliance while working together on the challenges presented by China and nuclear-armed North Korea, Kishida said. Regarding the latter country, that will include the vexing issue of Japanese nationals abducted by agents of Pyongyang in the 1970s and ’80s.

Kishida, who took office Monday after being elected in an extraordinary session of the Diet, also said the two leaders — whose talks took on a friendly tone, with the pair referring to each other by their first names — had agreed to work toward a face-to-face meeting at an early date.

Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this story.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.