US and Japan to announce military cooperation and joint NASA lunar mission

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The leaders of the United States and Japan will commit this week to modernizing their military alliance, with the goal of eventually creating a truly operational hub for the most important defense partnership in the Pacific.

They will also outline a vision for an integrated air defense network linking Japanese, Australian and US sensors, so that each country can have a complete picture of air threats in the region.

And they will announce that a Japanese astronaut will become the first non-American on a NASA mission to the Moon.

These are among a series of announcements expected this week when President Biden hosts Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on a state visit on Wednesday, followed a day later by the first summit between Japan’s leaders, United States and the Philippines. .

The summits are the latest sign of the Biden administration’s efforts to deepen what it calls an “interweaving” of alliances and partnerships in the region, a clear signal to China. To underscore this point, Japan and the United States on Sunday joined Australia and the Philippines in military exercises in the South China Sea. an area that China claims as part of its maritime domain.

The relationship with Japan in particular has deepened significantly, with Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell recently calling it “the cornerstone of our engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”

The progress, however, has not been free of some economic tensions. More recently, Japanese officials were frustrated by Biden’s public opposition to Nippon Steel’s $14.9 billion bid to acquire US Steel, with the president saying it was “vital” that the faded industrial giant remain in American hands.

But Tokyo, officials there say, understands the need for Biden to oppose the inauguration in an election year and has remained apparently placid. The two governments, stressing that the matter is up to the companies to resolve, are determined not to let it spoil this week’s visit.

China Growing aggressiveness in the region. has brought Japan and the Philippines closer to the United States as their security interests converge. Over the past year and a half, Japan has made major reforms to its defense and national security strategies and has committed to purchasing American Tomahawk missiles and developing its own counter-strike capability. The Philippines has granted the US military access to more bases on its islands.

Biden administration officials say the U.S.-Japan relationship is in the best shape it has ever been. “There should be a permanent level of mutual trust,” said a Japanese official, who like other senior officials in both capitals spoke at the condition of anonymity to discuss summit planning.

Kishida, who will deliver a speech Thursday at a joint meeting of Congress, will also highlight Japan’s aspirations to be a global leader. At last year’s Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Kishida rallied support for Ukraine, expanded the Global South’s participation in the meeting of advanced democracies and called for collective action against economic coercion, a veiled swipe at China. .

Japan, a senior Biden administration official said, is aligning itself with the United States “in many ways as a NATO ally.”

Although Biden will express his intention to improve the joint US military command structure in Japan, he will not reveal a specific plan, a senior administration official said. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has yet to approve a plan, in consultation with the president and the incoming commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel Paparo, the official said.

Meanwhile, Tokyo has announced plans to establish a Joint Operations Command by 2025 to lead all Japanese military operations, a measure that the United States has long sought. In return, Tokyo would like Washington establish an operational command in Japan. Joint U.S. personnel operations in Japan are currently led by Indo-Pacom, which is headquartered in Hawaii.

“Today, if China were to attack Taiwan, the United States and Japan would have difficulty forging a combined response,” said Christopher Johnstone, a former senior Biden White House aide for East Asia who now works at the Center for Strategic Studies. and International. “With truly operational commands in Japan, we would have a much better ability to coordinate military operations in real time.”

Kishida and Biden will also discuss expanding co-production of defense equipment. The Japanese already produce Patriot missiles under license from Raytheon and have committed to exporting several dozen to the United States to replenish depleted stocks sent to Ukraine and other allies. Although Biden and Kishida will not name specific weapons systems in their joint statement, an expansion of Patriot production could be discussed privately, along with the possibility of establishing other new manufacturing lines in the coming years, US officials said.

The two countries will also highlight economic investments, especially in the manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles, where Washington needs Tokyo’s help to boost production and fend off Beijing’s dominance.

“The preference is to trust countries or governments that have values ​​more in line with ours,” said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School.

Japanese battery companies have announced investments of more than $20 billion in the United States in recent years. Toyota has said it will spend nearly $14 billion on a giant battery plant in Liberty, North Carolina, which Kishida will visit this week. Panasonic, which already operates a battery factory with Tesla in Nevada, is investing up to $4 billion in another plant in Kansas. Honda and its partner LG Energy Solution of South Korea are spending more than $4 billion on a battery factory in Ohio.

Tensions remain over what are seen as the Biden administration’s protectionist tax breaks for American-made electric vehicles, but that “seems less significant,” the Japanese official said, than “the issue of over-reliance on China” for goods. such as solar panels and critical minerals.

But, the official added, there is a deeper geostrategic issue that, in Tokyo’s view, remains unresolved: Washington’s resistance to joining a trans-Pacific trade pact whose 11 members include Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico and Chile. Although the Obama administration supported the trade deal and led negotiations, negative voter sentiment in the run-up to the 2016 election made it clear that congressional approval would be extremely difficult.

Given the protectionist impulses of both parties, the Biden administration has not seriously considered joining. Meanwhile, China and Taiwan have asked to do so.

“The presence of the United States in the most advanced free trade agreement in the world would be significant,” said the official, referring to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, better known as CP-TPP.

“We will continue to raise the strategic importance,” the official said.

The United States also has its frustrations with Japan, particularly in the area of ​​cybersecurity. Japan’s national security systems have been breached by Chinese government hackersand Washington has told Tokyo that it needs to continue strengthening its network security, including in the intelligence sphere.

U.S. officials have encouraged Tokyo to “hold government officials accountable for the secrets they are entrusted with,” Campbell said last week at the Center for a New American Security. “It’s fair to say that Japan has taken some of those measures, but not all.”

Although the administration’s foreign policy has focused on wars in Europe and the Middle East, it has lavished diplomatic attention on allies and partners in Asia and the Pacific. With Kishida’s visit on Wednesday, four of Biden’s five state dinners for leaders of Indo-Pacific countries, including India, South Korea and Australia, will have been held. French President Emmanuel Macron also received the honor.

Christian Davenport contributed to this report.

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