Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to try to bolster Japan's security alliance with the United States during his summit with President Joe Biden on Friday, just weeks after Tokyo made a major shift in its defense policy.
Kishida's visit to Washington, his first since taking office in October 2021, will cap a weeklong tour of five of the Group of Seven industrialized countries he set out on to pave the way for a successful G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May.
In December, Japan decided to boost significantly its defense spending and acquire enemy base strike capabilities to deter attacks on its territory, amid growing security threats from its neighbors such as China and North Korea.
Kishida and Biden are certain to discuss a first revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation since 2015 to enable the two allies to collectively operate Tokyo's counterstrike capabilities.
The leaders may also exchange views on economic and monetary policies, as global business conditions have been deteriorating in the wake of food and energy price hikes triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Kishida, who as a lawmaker represents a constituency in the western Japan city devastated by a U.S. atomic bombing in August 1945, has expressed willingness to pitch his vision of a world without nuclear weapons at the upcoming G-7 gathering.
With fears lingering that Russia might use a nuclear weapon in its war against Ukraine, Kishida "really wants the G-7 leaders, including Biden, to seriously consider how the world can achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons," a Japanese government source said.
At his talks with Biden, Kishida will also explain to the president Japan's stance and position on regional issues, the source said, citing North Korea's nuclear and missile development, Russia's aggression and China's tensions with Taiwan as among the issues to be discussed between them.
Concerns are rife that Taiwan may become a military flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific region in the not-so-distant future, as China regards the self-ruled democratic island as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 as the result of a civil war.
Kishida has also voiced eagerness to reaffirm close cooperation with Biden to realize a "free and open Indo-Pacific" -- a vision seen as a counter to China's increasing military and economic clout in the Asia-Pacific region.
On Wednesday, the top foreign and defense officials of Japan and the United States said China's growing power poses the "greatest strategic challenge" in the region and beyond, vowing to reinforce deterrence as well as expand the scope of their security treaty even into space.
As for the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Tokyo, which depends heavily on Washington for military protection, will strive to receive confirmation from the United States, as it customarily does, that the Chinese-claimed islets are covered by Article 5 of the 1960 Japan-U.S. security treaty.
The provision calls for the United States to defend territories under Japanese administration from armed attack.
China has claimed the uninhabited islets since the early 1970s, calling them Diaoyu, after studies by the United Nations indicated there might be potentially lucrative gas reserves around them.
On the economic front, Kishida is likely to touch on Japan's monetary policy during his summit with Biden, as the world's third-biggest economy has been languishing amid price hikes without wage growth, another government source said.
The Bank of Japan allowed long-term government bond yields to move more widely in December, seen essentially as a rate hike, after the central bank swam against the global trend of monetary tightening with the yen bearing the brunt of its persistently dovish streak.
A falling yen is usually a boon for exports as Japanese products become cheaper abroad, raising the value of overseas revenues in yen terms, but it drives up import prices. Japan relies on imports for more than 90 percent of its energy needs.
Government data showed Japan's core consumer prices climbed 3.7 percent in November, a nearly 41-year high, while the economy contracted an annualized real 0.8 percent in the July-September period.
Washington, meanwhile, has been apparently worried that the U.S. dollar's slide may push up import costs with inflation accelerating, as the interest rate gap between Japan and the United States has been shrinking gradually, the source said.
Kishida's latest tour of Europe and North America consists of visits to France, Italy, Britain, Canada and the United States. He is slated to return home on Sunday.