U.S. President Joe Biden is eager to strengthen ties with Japan under the presumed next Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, a senior administration official said Wednesday after the former foreign minister was elected as the new leader of Japan's ruling party.
"The United States places great importance on the U.S.-Japan alliance, which serves as the cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and across the world," the official said. "President Biden looks forward to working with Japan's new prime minister to strengthen our cooperation in the years ahead."
The statement came as the two countries have been deepening their ties as they seek to counter China's growing assertiveness in the region.
Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said the Biden administration will likely reach out "quickly" to "develop a strong partnership" with the next Japanese prime minister amid an intensifying U.S.-China competition.
"There is a measure of, if not desperation, about the U.S.-Japan alliance because of the way China under (President) Xi Jinping has become so aggressive, so ambitious, and so coercive. So there's an urgency to this alliance," he said.
The United States will also likely be closely watching whether Kishida, a 64-year-old veteran politician characterized by his critics as lacking charisma, can solidify his grip on power and avoid Japan returning to an era of so-called revolving-door leadership.
"Will there be another rapid turnover of Japanese prime ministers and all the viscosity and uncertainty that creates in implementing policy?" asked Green.
Noting that Japan is "in every area of competition with China that the United States cares about," from technology and defense to democracy and diplomacy, Green said the focus of bilateral relations is now less about "alignment" but about "the execution of strategy."
Kishida is set to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down after just one year in office amid criticism of his government's coronavirus response.
Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe, who served for nearly eight years through September 2020, expanded Japan's security role overseas by loosening the constraints imposed by its postwar pacifist Constitution, a move that was welcomed by the United States.
But before Abe took office in December 2012 and eventually became Japan's longest-serving prime minister, the country saw six prime ministers in six years, including Abe's first stint from 2006 to 2007.
Green described Kishida as a "reliable" person in the eyes of LDP leaders but noted that his challenge is to be "attuned to the public mood," calling this his "strength but also his weakness."
Kishida is expected to be elected prime minister in an extraordinary Diet session starting Monday as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition ally hold a majority in both chambers of parliament.