- Associated Press
Friday, January 6, 2023

TOKYO (AP) — Japan and the United States will hold security talks between their foreign and defense ministers in Washington the day before Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida lands in the U.S. capital next week, wrapping up his tour of the Group of Seven nations as Tokyo expands its military and deepens its alliance with America amid China’s growing influence.

Kishida will embark Monday on a five-nation trip to France, Italy, Britain and Canada ahead of his Jan. 13 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden. The two leaders last met during a Group of 20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, but Kishida’s Washington visit will be his first as prime minister.

While there has been speculation about his visit to Ukraine, Kishida said Friday he held telephone talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and told him he’s considering the invitation to Kyiv if “various circumstances” permit, but nothing had been decided at the moment.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi will fly to Washington to join their American counterparts Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken for their “2+2” security talks Wednesday, just before their leaders’ summit at the White House, Japanese officials said Friday.

The “2+2” talks are expected to focus on their new national security strategies, released by Japan in mid-December and the United States in October, and how the two allies plan to tackle security concerns including China, North Korea and Russia.

“We will discuss strengthening of deterrence and response capability of the Japan-U.S. alliance as we take into consideration our new strategy documents,” Hamada told reporters.

Hamada said Friday he and Austin will separately hold bilateral defense talks on Thursday to discuss details of how their militaries can expand and deepen their operations.

Asked if they will discuss a revision to their current defense guideline based on Japan‘s more defensive role, Hamada said nothing has been decided.

Japan in December adopted a set of three security and defense strategy documents that break from its exclusively self-defense-only stance. Under the new strategies, Japan vows to build up its counterstrike capability with long-range cruise missiles including U.S.-made Tomahawks that can reach potential targets in China, double its defense budget within five years and bolster development of advanced weapons.

U.S. officials have welcomed Japan‘s willingness to take on a more offensive role, while experts say it could also help widen cooperation with Australia, their main regional defense partner.

Kishida on Wednesday said his talks with Biden will underscore the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance and highlight closer cooperation between the countries under Japan’s new security and defense strategies adopted last month.

He said coordination with other G-7 leaders ahead of the Hiroshima summit he will host in May is a key purpose of his trip, but Japanese officials said their talks will also focus on security and military cooperation.

Officials said Kishida wants to seek like-minded countries’ continued military engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and expand their cooperation as a counter to China. Kishida also wants to confirm G-7 unity in dealing with Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Kishida on Friday promised Zelenskyy he will do his utmost as G-7 president to support Ukraine. Japan will provide 300 power generators and 83,500 solar-powered lanterns to help the Ukrainians survive the cold winter, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

In France, Kishida plans to discuss a further deepening of security ties through joint military exercises. Japan‘s joint development and production of its F-X next-generation fighter jet with Italy and Britain for deployment in 2035 will be a top agenda item during his visits in Rome and London in an effort to expand military ties.

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