TOKYO, Jan 9 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida starts a tour of key Western partners on Monday, after unveiling his country’s biggest military buildup since World War Two as Tokyo weighs steps to counter China’s growing power.
Kishida, who will host a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) industrial powers in May, will meet leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Canada this week. Talks are expected to range from economic security and semiconductors to the war in Ukraine and rising tensions with nuclear-armed China and North Korea.
“As leader of the G7 chair this year, I’ll be making this visit to reaffirm our thinking on a number of issues,” Kishida told a Sunday news programme.
“With the United States, we’ll discuss deepening our bilateral alliance and how to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
He visits London and Rome after agreeing last month to develop a new jet fighter with those countries. He is to sign a deal with Britain that will establish a legal framework to allow visits by each other’s armed forces, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Friday.
Issues on Friday’s final stop at the White House are expected to include Japan’s plans to arm itself with missiles able to strike targets in China or North Korea, the bilateral defence agreement and efforts to limit China’s access to advanced semiconductors.
Tokyo and Washington hope the more muscular military policy Kishida announced last month, a further move away from Japan’s pacifist postwar constitution, will close a widening missile gap with China and deter Beijing from military action, particularly against neighbouring Taiwan.
“He’ll be going to show the U.S. that this has been concluded – and, with the G7 summit approaching, to touch base with the rest of the G7 to confirm their stances on Ukraine and Asia,” said political commentator Atsuo Ito.
Japan’s new defensive capabilities may require Washington and Tokyo to revise guidelines that define the roles they play in a decades-old alliance that lets the United States keep warships, fighter jets and thousands of troops in Japan.
Last revised in 2015, the guidelines will likely be among the subjects discussed by Japan’s defence and foreign ministers and their U.S. counterparts on Wednesday before Kishida meets President Joe Biden, a Japanese defence ministry official told a briefing on Friday.
On semiconductors, Japan and the United States are deepening cooperation on advanced chip development amid growing trade tension with China.
Both countries are eager to ensure their manufacturers have access to components considered key to the new technology-driven industries such as data storage, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Although Kishida has said he backs Biden’s attempt to limit China’s access to advanced semiconductors with export restrictions, he has not agreed to match sweeping curbs on exports of chip-manufacturing equipment the U.S. administration imposed in October.
Even without any major announcements, Kishida will hope his G7 tour boosts his flagging domestic support, hammered by cabinet resignations and a scandal over his party’s ties to the controversial Unification Church, analysts said.
“Holding a successful G7 summit would bring him maximum political points – and this trip is preparation for that,” said Airo Hino, a political science professor at Waseda University.
Reporting by Elaine Lies and Tim Kelly; Editing by William Mallard