US to ‘deepen’ engagement in Indo-Pacific – VP
US Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to Japan's defense during her first official trip to the country on Monday. She met with the Japanese prime minister in Tokyo to discuss Beijing’s “provocations” in the Taiwan Strait.
Harris is leading a US delegation to the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July. Ahead of the ceremony, the second-ranking US official met Abe’s successor, Fumio Kishida. They discussed “China’s recent aggressive and irresponsible provocations in the Taiwan Strait” and condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic missile test, a readout released by the White House said.
On Tuesday, she also met South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who are representing their respective governments at the funeral. Seoul and Canberra are among Washington’s key partners in the Asia-Pacific region.
Before flying to Tokyo, Harris promised to use her trip to “reaffirm our commitments to our Allies and continue to deepen engagement” in the region.
Taiwan became a flashpoint in US-China relations early August, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-governed Chinese island against Beijing's warnings. The Chinese government accuses Washington of challenging its sovereignty over Taiwan by nudging the local administration into separatism.
Harris described the US-Japan alliance as “a cornerstone of what we believe is integral to peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” during the public portion of the meeting at Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace.
The US has kept tens of thousands of troops in Japan since occupying the country during World War II. Abe, who served as prime minister in 2006-2007 and again in 2012-2020, was a key figure in pushing Japan away from its post-war pacifist stance and rebuilding its military. He was assassinated on July 8 during a campaign event on behalf of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japanese politics since 1955.
Prime Minister Kishida has doubled down on Abe’s military policy and is currently seeking a record defense budget of almost $40 billion for fiscal year 2023, potentially making Japan the third highest military spender in the world after the US and China.
Tokyo plans to spend the funds on stockpiling some 1,000 additional long-range missiles and otherwise beefing up its forces under an upcoming update of the national military strategy, according to local media.
Vice President Harris is set to travel from Japan to South Korea, where she will reportedly visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border with North Korea. The last top-level US official to tour the DMZ was Pelosi, who went there last month, just after her controversial trip to Taiwan.