US, Japan boost scientific cooperation on defence against hypersonic weapons amid China concerns

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·5-min read
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  • Antony Blinken
    Antony Blinken
    American government official and 71th U.S. Secretary of State
  • Yoshimasa Hayashi
    Japanese politician

The United States and Japan have agreed to deepen scientific cooperation on military technologies including defence against hypersonic weapons, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

The announcement came as the two countries acknowledged the challenges posed by what they called China’s efforts to “undermine the rules-based order” – ranging from its activities in the South China and East China seas to alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

In a joint statement released following dialogue between the two countries’ diplomatic and defence ministers – the so-called 2+2 meeting, held annually – they pledged to “work together to deter and, if necessary, respond to [China’s] destabilising activities in the region”.

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That coordination would include research collaboration between the two countries’ scientists on “emerging defence-related issues”, including countering hypersonic threats and advancing space-based capabilities, Blinken said at the start of the meeting.

“When Japanese and American researchers bring their complementary strengths to bear, we can out-compete and out-innovate anyone,” Blinken said.

News of the agreement comes on the heels of a new military pact between Japan and Australia, and following reported tests of hypersonic missiles last year by China and in recent days by North Korea.

Blinken made the remarks at a virtual gathering between himself and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and the pair’s Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi.

As well as research cooperation, Blinken also announced that the two countries would in the coming days sign a new five-year host nation support framework, referring to Tokyo’s financial contribution to the stationing of US troops on Japanese soil.

Under the agreement, Japan will pay US$9.33 billion over the next five years towards the upkeep of US forces in the country, which number around 54,000. That will constitute a 4.6 per cent increase on yearly spending compared with the previous arrangement.

As the two countries have sought to coordinate their efforts to promote what they call a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, Beijing has accused Tokyo and Washington of ganging up against China and fanning regional confrontation.

Following last year’s 2+2 meeting, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the two countries’ cooperation would “only enable the world to see with increasing clarity the detrimental nature of the US-Japan alliance, which attempts to undermine regional peace and stability”.

In a further sign of efforts by Japan to bolster military ties with regional allies amid rising tensions with China, Tokyo earlier on Thursday signed a defence deal with Canberra that addressed legal barriers to either country’s troops entering the other.

Meanwhile, the US has deepened security ties with Britain and Australia via the Aukus agreement and aligned itself with the European Union on technology and economic issues through the US-EU Trade and Technology Council.

Accusing both China and Russia of flouting international norms on land, at sea, in space and in cyberspace, Blinken said on Thursday that Beijing’s “provocative actions keep raising tensions across the Taiwan Strait, and in the East [and] South China seas”.

Washington’s top diplomat also raised the growing defence cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, days after it was revealed that the two powers would this year sign a new space cooperation agreement.

Besides China’s “coercive and aggressive behaviour”, Austin said North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were also contributing to increased regional tensions and challenges to a “stable and secure” Indo-Pacific.

Besides security issues, the ministers in their joint statement raised “serious and ongoing concerns” about China’s human rights record in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and pledged to cooperate with “all who share a commitment to respect for freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, international law, multilateralism, and a free and fair economic order”.

The gathering of US and Japanese officials on Thursday comes as both countries tackle not only shared strategic challenges but also the coronavirus pandemic, now entering its third year.

Before the talks, Hayashi spoke with Blinken to request that the US lock down its military bases in Japan, amid a surge of Covid-19 cases in Okinawa that the prefecture’s governor has blamed on US troops.

China’s answer to Aukus? More rhetoric, more intimidation, more weapons

And in another sign of the times, Austin took part in Thursday’s meeting while in isolation, following a positive diagnosis for Covid-19 over the weekend. “I’m very grateful that I’m fully vaccinated and got a booster shot,” he told his Japanese counterparts. “My doctor tells me that that’s made my case far milder.”

The virtual gathering stood in contrast to last year’s in-person meeting in Japan, which was the first overseas visit that Blinken and Austin made in their tenures.

In their opening remarks on Thursday, Japanese officials did not name-check Beijing, but it was the implied subject of many of their comments.

“The international community is faced with fundamental and multifaceted challenges,” Hayashi said, “such as the change in the strategic balance, unilateral and coercive attempts to change the status quo, abusive use of unfair pressure and expanding authoritarian regimes, among others.”

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