TOKYO - Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers are set to closely coordinate on steps to strengthen the bilateral alliance at security talks Tuesday in Tokyo as China puts forth increasingly coercive measures across the Indo-Pacific region.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Japan for the first Cabinet-level overseas trip under President Joe Biden's administration, looking to work with Tokyo in addressing China, which Washington describes as "the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century."
"I want to have a thorough exchange of views on cooperation toward strengthening deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance," Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a Diet committee ahead of the so-called two-plus-two meeting with the U.S. secretaries and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.
At the outset of one-on-one talks with Motegi, held ahead of the two-plus-two meeting, Blinken said Japan and the United States stand together in support of their shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The United States believe in these values because "we have seen in our own countries that those values actually make us stronger and because they are under threat in the places including in the region, whether it's in Burma or whether in different ways, China," Blinken said.
The ministers plan to criticize China by name in a joint statement to be issued after the two-plus-two meeting, according to Japanese government sources.
It is rare for such a document to single out a country, a sign that Tokyo and Washington have raised their alert level over the threat Beijing poses militarily, economically, and to violations of human rights.
Specifically, the ministers will express concerns about China's implementation last month of a law that would enable Chinese coast guard ships to fire on vessels around the Senkaku Islands, a group of Japanese-controlled islets claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.
Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters around the islets in an apparent attempt to undermine Tokyo's control.
The statement is also expected to explicitly lay out that the Senkaku Islands fall within the scope of Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty, meaning the United States would defend Japan in the event of a conflict there, the sources said.
Following the two-plus-two meeting, the first of its kind since April 2019, the U.S. secretaries will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The premier has been invited to the White House in the first half of April for talks with Biden as the first foreign leader to do so in person.
In the two-plus-two talks, the ministers are also expected to express concerns about Beijing's widely reported human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in China's far-western Xinjiang region.
The issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions will be on the agenda as the Biden administration is currently conducting a "thorough" review of U.S. policy toward the nation in consultation with Japan and South Korea, with it expected to be completed in "the coming weeks," according to a senior State Department official.
Among other issues, the four ministers are expected to share concerns about the crisis in Myanmar, where the military detained State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a Feb. 1 coup.
After visiting Japan, Blinken and Austin will travel to Seoul on Wednesday for talks with their South Korean counterparts.
Following the two-nation Asian tour, Blinken is scheduled to meet with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party of China's Political Bureau and the country's top foreign policy official, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Alaska on Thursday, the first in-person contact between senior officials of the two countries since the Biden administration took office.