Tensions rising in Asia, Biden meets with Tokyo Prime Minster

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, staff

On Jan. 21, 2022, President Joe Biden talked virtually with Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, who was in Tokyo. They discussed two major concerns: China’s growing presence in the South China Sea: and, the rising tension between China and Taiwan. 

The South China Sea is a well-traveled commercial route and as such, it is patrolled by Naval ships from multiple countries including the U.S and China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated on Jan. 13, 2022, that China believes it has the right to complete sovereignty of the South China Sea. Wang said, “China has historical rights in the South China Sea. China’s Sovereignty and related rights and interests in the South China Sea have been established in a long period of history and are consistent with international law.” 

The U.S. does not have an official position concerning China’s claims but has long held that is has the right to operate its Navy in the waters because they are classified as international. After Wenbin spoke, the U.S. replied saying China was not allowed to claim maritime zones by trying to label an island group as its territory and extending its national waters beyond the island as it is “not permitted by international law.” The U.S. has military bases in South Korea, Japan, and Guam which provides a large military presence in the region. A presence which China as, the self-considered dominant Asian power, resents and wants to undermine and scale back. For its part, Japan wants to continue a robust U S naval presence in the South China Sea and has expressed interest in enhancing its own naval presence in the area to accentuate its commitment to encumbered commercial shipping throughout the area.

China’s military incursions into Taiwan’s airspace have also drawn Japanese and US concern. Because China wishes to have complete control over the South China Sea that would include Taiwan, China has built military facilities on man-made islands In the South China Sea in order to extend its operational reach and put pressure on Taiwan. Taiwan has been made uncomfortable by Chinese warplanes flying through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. In October of 2021, the flights hit a record of 149 total flights in just four days. 

The U.S. regularly holds military exercises in the South China Sea to demonstrate the military presence and practice military techniques. The U.S. does not have bases in Taiwan, but U.S. military forces including Navy, Marine, Army, and special forces train with Taiwan’s forces on a regular basis. The U.S. has extended military support for Taiwan “based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat posed by” China, said Pentagon spokesman John Supple, but the U.S. does not have a formal treaty that commits it to defend Taiwan.

What prompted the need for communication between Tokyo and Washington, beyond the tension with China which has been an ongoing issue, was news from North Korea that they may be resuming long-range nuclear missile testing. This news was disconcerting because North Korea had halted missile testing for the past three years. Kim Jong Un was in a Politburo meeting this past week for the ruling Workers’ Party. The goal of the meeting, as stated by North Koreans was to discuss increasing their military capabilities because of the recent “hostile moves” by the U.S.

President Biden assured Prime Minster Kishida that the U.S. would be in contact with South Korea to address the rising threat. Biden accepted Kishida’s Invitation to the Quad Summit, which is a meeting between the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India. Biden has also promised to share more information about North Korean missile testing with the American people in the days to come. 

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