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Japanese prime minister visits Biden at the White House

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden capped a week of high-level diplomacy by hosting Japan's prime minister at the White House today. Japan recently decided to start its biggest military buildup since World War II. And the Biden administration is all for that as it tries to work with allies to counter Chinese aggression in the region. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Rome, Paris, London and Ottawa before arriving at the White House, touting his new national security strategy and big budget increases for defense.

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PRIME MINISTER FUMIO KISHIDA: (Speaking Japanese).

KELEMEN: Calling President Biden Joe, the Japanese prime minister said the two countries must play a greater role together on the world stage. Biden said the two are closer than ever. Just this week, the Defense Department announced plans for a new marine force on Okinawa, one that would be more agile and able to respond to or deter Chinese military threats against Taiwan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced plans to cooperate with Japan in space.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: I think what you're seeing in real time is an alliance that is modernized. And the United States and Japan are working in lockstep to be prepared for the emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

KELEMEN: The big challenge is China, but Russia's war in Ukraine has also shaken the global order.

NORIYUKI SHIKATA: Today's Ukraine could be tomorrow's Asia.

KELEMEN: That's Noriyuki Shikata, a Cabinet secretary for public affairs in the prime minister's office.

SHIKATA: If you allow a change of status quo in Ukraine, there could be other attempts to change the status quo in other parts of the world, including in Asia.

KELEMEN: Meaning Taiwan?

SHIKATA: Including Taiwan.

KELEMEN: He told NPR that China's more assertive behavior is not the only reason that Japan is embarking on a military buildup. North Korea continues to launch missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Japan is president of the council this month, but getting anything done there is difficult since Russia and China have veto power. Shikata says the Japanese government will focus on new defensive capabilities.

SHIKATA: Prime Minister Kishida announced his intention for Japan to equip itself with so-called counterstrike capability for defensive purposes. This is to deter aggressions or the use of force against Japan.

KELEMEN: How to pay for this is still under debate, and Japan's government is facing domestic blowback for a talk of tax hikes. Japan also has to walk a fine line not to provoke China. A Chinese government spokesman commenting on the announcement from Washington this week said any cooperation between the U.S. and Japan should not harm the interests of third parties. Shikata says Japan and the U.S. want stability, especially around Taiwan.

SHIKATA: We are seeing eye to eye between Japan and the United States. That peaceful settlement, based on dialogue on the Taiwan Strait issues, should be pursued.

KELEMEN: The Biden administration often describes its approach to China with three words - invest, align and compete. This week's meetings were all about aligning with a key regional ally, Japan. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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