WASHINGTON -- U.S. and Japanese defense and foreign affairs leaders agreed today that China's behavior has become more aggressive, and the U.S. and Japan will work together to counter China's destabilizing efforts.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III traveled to Tokyo as the first trip outside the United States by Biden administration officials. They met with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in the so-called "two-plus-two" meetings hosted by Motegi. They later met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
All four men said they were pleased by the talks and stated that the alliance is strong and that their decisions will further strengthen it.
Austin emphasized the teamwork inherent in the alliance, and said the alliance system is the best way to confront China's "coarsening" behavior. "I was pleased with our discussions on how we can further strengthen our bonds to seize the opportunities and address the challenges that we face together," he said during a press conference following the meeting. "We spoke on a number of issues to include our commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea, and enhancing alliance capabilities across all domains, and addressing aggressive and coarsened behaviors from China — especially in the South and East China Seas."
Japan shares the U.S. concerns about China's destabilizing actions. "China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense," he said. "And we know that competing in today's shifting global dynamics can only be done through the spirit of teamwork and cooperation, which are the hallmarks of our alliance with Japan."
Motegi said the strategic situation in the region is completely different from what it was just a few short years ago. It makes the U.S.-Japan Alliance, signed in 1960, even more important.
The Japanese are concerned about China's aggressive actions in the Taiwan Strait and brought up the situation in the meeting, said a senior defense official. The Japanese are also concerned about a recent Chinese law authorizing the Chinese coast guard to patrol the Senkaku Islands, which both China and Japan claim. U.S. officials reiterated that the Senkakus come under Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan treaty mandating America's defense of Japan.
"We remain opposed to any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo, including in the eastern South China Seas,” Motegi said.
Blinken and Motegi called the U.S.-Japan alliance the very foundation of regional peace and stability. "We agree that Japan and the United States will continue to collaborate with like-minded nations — including Australia and India — to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific," Motegi said. "Further, we reconfirmed that the strong commitment of the United States regarding defense of Japan using all types of U.S. forces, including nuclear."
It has been two years since the last set of meetings, and the ministers addressed new topics, which included COVID-19, climate change, cybersecurity and more. Each issue affects the citizens of both nations, Blinken said. "We're also standing together in support of our shared values," the secretary said. "We believe in democracy and human rights [and] the rule of law because we've seen how our own countries are stronger because we adhere to those values — and because they're under threat in many places, including in this region."
Blinken said China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang province and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law.
"We're united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully," Blinken said. "We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggressions, to get its way."
The region is the priority theater for the Defense Department. In addition to China, Defense officials said North Korea is still trying to build up its military and developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Blinken said it is becoming the center of global geopolitics. "It's where so much of the history of the 21st century is going to be written," he said. "There are competing visions for how that story should go. Japan and the United States, together with our allies and partners, will be strong advocates for our shared approach, grounded in our values and our joint commitment to the security and well-being of all our people."
For U.S. service members in Japan, the discussions will mean more exercises with Japan's self-defense force. "In order for the U.S. forces and the self-defense force to serve the missions, we agreed on the notion of the necessity to engage in more sophisticated bilateral, as well as many multilateral exercises," Defense Minister Kishi said.
"Today, our alliance forges on, resolute and resilient in the face of our shared challenges," Austin said. "Without question, the U.S.-Japan alliance remains a cornerstone in addressing today's and tomorrow's challenges as we work together to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific. I am confident that working together we can meet any challenge and outmatch any competitor in the years ahead."