Japan Forward

Kishida Channels Verdun Spirit in Response to Global Security Challenges

US President Joe Biden's state visit invitation to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in April highlights Japan's role in rallying democracies to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Senior Fellow, Japan Chair
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference on January 4, 2024, in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by the Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference on January 4, 2024, in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by the Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

"They shall not pass!" was the rallying cry of the French forces at Verdun. A century later, Prime Minster Fumio Kishida echoed a similar challenge. 

Addressing Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the Quad meeting on March 3, 2022, Kishida set out a proposition. He stated that "unilateral changes in the status quo like this should not be allowed in the Indo-Pacific region." 

In the Indo-Pacific, Russia's aggression served to bring pre-existing security challenges into sharper relief — in the South and East China Seas, across the Taiwan Strait, and on the Korean Peninsula.

Under Prime Minister Kishida, Japan has played a leading role in rallying Western democracies in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Together, they have opposed unilateral efforts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific, supporting a rules-based regional order, the free and open Indo-Pacific.

Enhancing Diplomatic and Defense Ties

At the same time, the Kishida government ordered Japan's diplomacy to strengthen the Japan-US Alliance. It has also endeavored to develop defense ties with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. 

The Japan-US Security Consultative Meeting of January 11, 2023, marked the strategic alignment of "national security and defense strategies." These include the integration of Japan's counterstrike capabilities, expanded "joint/shared use" of defense facilities, and an increase in bilateral exercises focused on Japan's southwest islands. The meeting also aligned on the "flexible use of air and seaports to ensure the resiliency of defense assets and their operational effectiveness use in a contingency." 

The Joint Statement recognized China as representing "the greatest strategic challenge in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond." 

In February 2024, Japan, Australia, and the United States conducted a joint command post exercise focused on a Taiwan contingency. 

At the same time, Japan expanded security ties with Australia, India, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea.

Japan-Australia Relations

In October 2022, Japan and Australia updated the 2007 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. Through this, they reaffirmed support for a free and open Indo-Pacific. They agreed to expand joint military exercises and training toward increasing interoperability. 

The two governments also committed to cooperating in the development of "strategic capabilities, including long-range guided weapons." Furthermore, they agreed to strengthen defense industry cooperation.

Earlier, in January 2022, Japan and Australia concluded a Reciprocal Access Agreement to facilitate joint training and exercises. Prime Minister Kishida hailed it as a "breakthrough" agreement. He said that it could serve as a model for security cooperation with other countries, and it has. 

On, January 11, 2023, Japan and the United Kingdom concluded a Reciprocal Access Agreement. Talks on a Reciprocal Access Agreement are now underway between Japan and the Philippines. 

Japan-South Korea Relations

Kishida was also quick to respond to South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol's strategic decision to move ties with Japan from their difficult past to a future-oriented relationship. They have opened opportunities for diplomatic and security cooperation. This is both in terms of bilateral as well as trilateral engagement with the United States.

Kishida invited President Yoon to Japan in March 2023 and paid a return visit to Korea in May. As chair of the G7, Kishida invited Yoon to attend the G7 Summit in Hiroshima. He also joined Yoon and US President Joe Biden at the Camp David Summit in August. 

The overall impact of improving Japan-South Korea ties has been to strengthen deterrence in Northeast Asia. It also enhances diplomatic cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

Kishida, representing the G7, visited India during the G20 Summit. The Prime Minister used the occasion to recognize India as the leading representative of the Global South. He also launched Japan's "New Plan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific — Together with India as an Indispensable Partner." 

The New Plan is aimed at working with India to address development issues affecting the Global South — and to counter China's growing influence in the region.

Security Assistance for Like-Minded Countries

In conjunction with Japan's new National Security Strategy, the Kishida government adopted Implementation Guidelines for Japan's Official Security Assistance (OSA). The program aims at "enhancing the security and deterrence capabilities of like-minded countries in order to prevent unilateral efforts to change the status quo by force […] and create a security environment desirable for Japan." 

OSA provides "equipment and supplies as well as assistance to like-minded countries in view of strengthening their security capacities and improving their deterrence capabilities." 

The OSA commitment is reflected in Japan's rapidly expanding security ties with the Philippines. In February 2023, Kishida hosted President Ferdinand Marcos. During the four-day visit, discussions focused on shared maritime challenges in the South and East China Seas. 

Kishida and Marcos emphasized the importance of improving security ties, including the development of a Reciprocal Access Agreement to advance defense exchanges and training. 

Celebrating Alliances

Beyond the Indo-Pacific, Kishida has actively worked to engage European allies toward greater diplomatic and security collaboration in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In 2023, Kishida traveled to Ukraine, Poland, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, NATO, and Canada for high-level summits. Meanwhile, Japan has regularized 2 plus 2 meetings with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Australia. 

In each instance, Joint Statements have reaffirmed commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. They have also declared opposition to the use of force or coercion to change the status quo, the denuclearization of North Korea, and the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. 

US security concerns have been overwhelmingly focused on Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic. At such a time, President Biden's invitation of a state visit to Prime Minister Kishida clearly underscores the role that he and Japan have played in supporting the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific.

The Alliance, which the state visit will celebrate, remains, as it has for decades, the foundational element for stability and security in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Read in Japan Forward.