Japan Alliance Crucial for Biden in Confronting China, Trump Officials Say

Pompeo, O'Brien say President Biden borrowing from Trump playbook on Japan

Then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo discusses Iran in January / Getty Images
June 2, 2021

President Biden is taking cues from the Trump administration by strengthening its ties with Japan to confront China, according to former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser Robert O'Brien.

"I'm hopeful that even under the current administration that the Japanese-American relationship will remain strong," Pompeo said Tuesday at a foreign policy gathering. "The platform that we strengthened continues to be built on by President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Jake Sullivan and others—they realize the great strategic advantages that come from a strong Japan."

The Trump administration forged close ties with Tokyo under the leadership of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who met with President Trump several times to adjust the complicated trade relationship between the two countries and to collaborate in reining in China. The Biden administration appears ready to build on the foundation and boost the Quad—a strategic alliance between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia.

In March, President Biden and senior administration officials met with leaders from Japan, Australia, and India to affirm the alliance and develop plans for vaccine rollout, among other policy items. National security adviser Jake Sullivan called the Quad "a critical part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific."

O'Brien said close ties with Japan will be viewed by history as "one of the singular foreign policy achievements of the Trump administration." And Pompeo said the rise of Chinese strongman Xi Jinping only advanced the deep relationship between the United States and Japan out of a need to confront Beijing.

"Xi Jinping gave us enormous energy," Pompeo said. "We really added the collective administrations, the bureaucracies starting to have real conversations about what shape this might take."

Former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger said as China’s threat to Taiwan grows, the United States can secure defense commitments from Japan—a critical element in the Trump administration’s regional strategy—in case of a Taiwanese invasion.

"Taiwan's defense is Japan's defense," Pottinger said. "I've never seen an empirical fact produced to suggest that our alliances did anything other than strengthen over the course of the Trump administration.... The United States [is] still providing the majority of the defense, but we want to see Japan step up and spend more."

Japan appears to be following Pottinger’s advice. In May, Japanese defense minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters Japan must increase its defense budget at a "radically different pace than in the past" due to the rising military threat from China.