U.S. and Japanese state flags were hoisted in front of the Palace Tokyo Hotel on May 25, 2019, ahead of a state visit by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Tomohiro Ohsumi Getty Images
American president Joe Biden will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday – and political analysts say China’s growing influence is likely to be high on the agenda.
The two leaders will gather in Washington, D.C., for the first, summit of the U.S. president with a foreign leader since his inauguration in January. The meeting comes as the U.S. seeks to challenge China on issues ranging from human rights to unfair trade practices.
“Rebuilding U.S. alliances and competing with China are at the core of Biden’s foreign policy. A personal meeting with Suga signals that Japan is the opposition to both efforts,” Jonathan Wood, director and leading U.S. analyst at consulting firm Control Risks, told CNBC. email.
Suppression of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative
Biden and Suga are expected to discuss the US-Japan security partnership and other potential areas of cooperation during their meeting. That could include climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and stability in the Taiwan Strait, analysts said.
… the best way for Washington to compete with Beijing’s economic influence in the Indo-Pacific is to provide more attractive development opportunities to countries in the region.
One of the possible outcomes of the summit is an infrastructure plan focused on high-quality projects such as high-speed 5G internet and clean energy, Nikkei Asia reported last week.
Such US-Japanese infrastructure cooperation could be a rival Chinese Mass Belt and Road Initiative, the report said.
The Belt and Road initiative is China’s ambitious program to build physical and digital infrastructure that connects hundreds of countries from Asia to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Many critics consider it the Chinese president Xi Jinping sign a foreign policy to expand the global influence of their country.
“Establishing an alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative is important to Biden’s overall foreign policy agenda in the Indo-Pacific,” Neil Thomas, an analyst at the Eurasia Group’s Risk Advisory Group, told CNBC via email.
“This is because the best way for Washington to compete with Beijing’s economic influence in the Indo-Pacific is to provide more attractive development opportunities to countries in the region,” he added.
Even before he was elected president, Biden criticized China financing of dirty fossil fuel projects through the Belt and Road Initiative. He outlined the possibility of working with allies to offer alternative sources of funding for lower-carbon energy projects.
The act of balancing Japan
Japan is an important American ally in Asia, where Chinese influence has grown in recent years.
The Biden administration has given priority to Japan in diplomatic activities in the Asia-Pacific region.
Last month, Biden practically met with the leaders of the so-called Quad Alliance, of which Japan is a member. Some analysts say an informal strategic alliance – which includes the United States, Australia and India – could be a way to counter Chinese influence.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin also visited Tokyo last month to meet with their Japanese counterparts.
But Japan is crossing a thin line between the United States – its main security partner and China – its largest economic partner. And the potential for rapprochement between the United States and Japan has not been lost in Beijing.
Last week, China’s state adviser and foreign minister Wang Yi told his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in a phone call that “Japan should look more positively at China’s development.”
Prior to Wang’s remark, Beijing criticized US-Japan joint statement issued during Blinken’s and Austin’s visit to Tokyo. The statement expressed concern over Chinese behavior in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea that was “contrary to the existing international order”.
Beijing responded with a strike, saying the statement was “maliciously attacking” China’s foreign policy also “flagrantly interferes” in its internal affairs.
For Japan, “the balance between the U.S. and China currently requires a precise understanding of the intent and scope of U.S. measures,” Wood of Control Risks said.
Thomas Eurasia Group said Japan would not support the U.S. position on human rights issues and policies for selective separation from the Chinese economy.