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With Kishida and Marcos in Washington, the Three Leaders Pledge to Uphold the Rule of Law in the Indo-Pacific

After Kishida addressed the US Congress, the three leaders, met in a tripartite summit focused on China's threatening stance in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific.



President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (left), President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida chat at the tripartite summit on April 11. (Courtesy of Prime Minister's Office)

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent important messages not only to President Joe Biden but also to future potential leaders of the United States during his visit to Washington

"We are your global partner today and we will be your global partner in the years ahead." This phrase was a key soundbite of Mr Kishida's speech to Congress, delivered on April 11. The audience included supporters of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

In the past, Mr Trump has questioned the value of alliances and multilateral institutions. However, a previous Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, strongly encouraged Trump to see the importance of using Japan to counter the growing influence of China - especially the aggressive tactics of the People's Liberation Army Navy and the China Coast Guard

Prime Minister Kishida addresses a joint seession of the Senate and House of Representatives of the US Congress on April 11. (© Kyodo)

Dangerous Waters

Mr Kishida focussed on maritime security in his speech.

He said: "China's current external stance and military actions present an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge, not only to the peace and security of Japan but to the peace and stability of the international community at large."

The Prime Minister received supportive applause from the American politicians when he said, "... we are now at an inflection point that will define the next stage of human history." 

He continued: "The international order that the US worked for generations to build is facing new challenges, challenges from those with values and principles very different from ours." And as a result, "freedom and democracy are currently under threat around the globe."

The Prime Minister warned that North Korea's nuclear and missile program is a direct threat to Japan. Mr Kishida also reminded his listeners that: "Russia's unprovoked, unjust, and brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has entered its third year."


He said: "Russia continues to threaten the use of nuclear weapons, which has contributed to worldwide concern that yet another catastrophe by nuclear weapon use is a real possibility."

Many politicians and reporters admired the smooth delivery of Mr Kishida's speech in English. The prime minister usually speaks through interpreters at international meetings.

At the Japan-US-Philippines summit meeting (from left) Philippine President Marcos, US President Biden, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House, Washington, DC. (© Kyodo)

Trilateral Meeting

Mr Kishida's Washington trip included an important encounter with the President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. A trilateral summit involving the two Asian leaders and President Biden took place on April 11. That was the same day as Mr Kishida's speech to Congress.

Mr Marcos told reporters that the three countries are bound by a shared vision in pursuit of a "peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific." 

He said their partnership was "linked by a profound respect for democracy, good governance and the rule of law." The coastguards from the US, Japan, and the Philippines will conduct joint patrols later this year. Japan will also supply equipment to the Philippine Coast Guard to help it monitor the activity of Chinese ships.

Second Thomas Shoal is a reef in the Spratly Islands inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. It is a particular point of tension. China Coast Guard ships have used water cannons against Philippine vessels, including the Philippines Coast Guard.

President Biden reassured the two visiting leaders that America's commitment to both their nations is "ironclad." The President added that an attack on Filipino ships in the South China Sea would invoke the America-Philippines defense treaty. 

China's spurious territorial claims in Asia also lead it to regularly hassle the Japanese Coast Guard and Self Defense Force ships near Japan's Senkaku Islands, which lie near the Southwest tip of the Japanese archipelago.

Japan-US-Philippine summit on April 11, 2024 (Courtesy of Prime Minister's Office)

Friendship with the Philippines

Recently there has been a significant improvement in the Philippines' standing in the United States. This has occurred since Ferdiend Marcos Jr replaced Rodrigo Duterte as President. 

The relationship between Japan and the Philippines is also thriving, according to Saya Kiba from Kobe City University. She says that the two Asian countries are cooperating in many ways in defense and security.


Professor Kiba says that people in the Philippines like being treated as an equal partner by the US and Japan. Nevertheless, the country's legal system and military capacity remain weak compared to larger nations.

A joint vision statement issued by the leaders following the tripartite summit emphasized that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are vital and indispensable to global security and prosperity.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry welcomed the firm stance and reiterated that the issue has reached a high degree of international consensus.

China's Response

Not surprisingly, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded wolfishly to the meetings in Washington. It also did its best to present the US and Japan as threats to regional peace and stability.

"China will defend its sovereignty, security and development interests," said Mao Ning, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

In the view of Professor Steve Tsang, Director of the SOAS China Institute, such rhetoric is typical of the Chinese Communist Party:

From Beijing's perspective, China is always right and never aggressive. That is why other countries' responses to China's activities are framed as threats and blamed on anti-China sentiment or on a Cold War mentality. However, this ignores the fact that Japan has a peace-based constitution. Furthermore, both the US and Japan were supporters of China's modernization in an earlier era, during a time when China was not threatening other countries.

Meanwhile, China's leaders have been bolstering relations with Russia and North Korea. Xi Jinping met the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov in Beijing on April 9. 


A few days later, Zhao Leji, chair of China's National People's Congress, headed to North Korea. The Chinese Foreign Ministry claims this visit was an "embodiment of deep-seated friendship among the two nations."


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays.