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Talk to the Prime Minister of Japan

JayJapanese officials There used to be concerns that the US was too cool about threats from China. Even after Chinese and Japanese ships clashed over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands a decade ago, U.S. leaders sought engagement. “We warn us,’” a former Japanese ambassador once complained to Banyan. But recently the Mercury has risen sharply in the U.S. — as politicians in the U.S. race to see who is the toughest on China. Now, this has created the opposite worry for Japan.

during an interview economist etc. Global media On April 20, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was asked what measures Japan is taking militarily to curb China’s hegemonic ambitions. He didn’t want to interfere. He did not list the many steps Japan had taken to bolster its defenses, but said: “The priority must be proactive diplomacy”.

So it goes on.speak in advance G7 With Japan hosting a summit in his hometown of Hiroshima next month, Mr Kishida occasionally glances at the briefings, trying not to make Japan’s tensions with China worse. “Japan will stand by what needs to be upheld and urge responsible action while maintaining firm dialogue on various issues and cooperating on common challenges,” he added, reiterating a “constructive and desire for a stable relationship. He used much the same phrase in a speech in Washington in January.

Indeed, there are many indications that Japan believes that the US-China competition is too intense. Japanese leaders are now calling for greater communication with China. Sino-Japanese diplomacy has quietly resumed since Mr Kishida held his first summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Indonesia last November. In late February, officials from the foreign and defense ministries of the two countries met. At the end of March, their armed forces activated a defense hotline. On April 2, Japanese Foreign Minister Lin Jizheng visited Beijing. This was the first visit to China in three years.

Japanese lawmakers have also shown restraint. Congress bears no resemblance to the belligerent China select committee in the US House of Representatives. Japan’s parliament has a long-standing Japan-China Parliamentary Friendship Association – which this week appointed Toshihiro Nikai as its chairman. An aging kingpin, he is known for his close ties to Beijing.

This does not mean that Japan has become less wary of China. Kishida has repeatedly called for “peace and security across the Taiwan Strait” and said Japan is unwilling to tolerate “changing the status quo by force” – a statement against China’s aggression against Taiwan. Japan’s plan to double defense spending over the next five years is aimed at convincing China that it cannot be pushed around. No one in Tokyo needs to convince China that it poses a threat.

Instead, the imminence of the threat made Japan take it very seriously. In the United States, talk of a Taiwan war is an abstraction half a world away; in Japan, it makes one wonder where the nearest bomb shelter might be. That’s why Japan doesn’t try to control the temperature as painstakingly as the hotheads on Capitol Hill. “It is very important for the international community to us-Relations with China remain stable,” Mr Kishida emphasized.

There are signs that the message is getting through.Communiqué issued by a meeting, partly at the urging of Japan G7 In Nagano, Japan, on April 18, Japanese foreign ministers called on countries to “cooperate” with China “candidly” – the equivalent of extending a diplomatic hand. On April 20, Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, assured an audience in Tokyo that the US had no intention of decoupling from China. On the same day, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the US seeks a “constructive and fair” relationship with China.

Regulating the temperature, however, will only get harder. With U.S. election season fast approaching, Tokyo is one stop on the track. (Ron DeSantis, the ambitious Republican governor and rival of Donald Trump, will visit on April 24.) Last month, a Japanese pharmaceutical company employee was arrested in Beijing on espionage charges . China is willing to talk to Japan mainly because it wants to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies. Even so, Mr Kishida’s efforts on temperature control in the Indo-Pacific may be his most important geopolitical contribution.

Read more from our Asia columnist Banyan:
Michael Lipton: Land reform mogul (April 20)
Narendra Modi is rewriting Indian history (April 13)
China’s Big Investments in Asia Fail to Buy Soft Power (April 5)

Plus: How the Banyan column got its name

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