Japan can aid lagging US defense industrial base: diplomat

Alex Willemyns for RFA
Japan can aid lagging US defense industrial base: diplomat U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel speaks during an interview with Reuters at the ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, Oct. 30, 2023.
Issei Kato/Reuters

The addition of Japan to an effort by the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia to create a single defense industrial base across their countries will help alleviate military production backlogs, the U.S. ambassador to Japan said in Washington on Monday.

Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago who has served as America’s top envoy in Tokyo since March 2022, said Japan’s recent overturning of laws banning the export of lethal weapons put the country in a unique spot to help the U.S. defense industry.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies ahead of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as well as a trilateral summit with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Emanuel said U.S. global military obligations were outstripping its industrial capacity.

“This is not breaking news,” he said. “Our military-industrial capabilities are not equal to the challenges and commitments we have.”

The ambassador said the recent overturning of the weapons-export ban in Tokyo “opens up the industrial capacity of Japan to be part of a solution” in a way that was not possible with allies in “Europe or any other country” that have less developed industrial capacities.

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A Philippine Navy AW159 Wildcat helicopter pilot walks toward a helicopter during the first Multilateral Maritime Cooperative Activity involving the Philippines, the United States, Australia and Japan, in South China Sea, April 7, 2024. [Handout/Armed Forces of the Philippines/AFP]

As part of their AUKUS security pact, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia are working toward the creation of a “seamless” defense industrial base across their three countries, as the United States struggles to chip away at production backlogs.

Emanuel said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week Japan would this week be revealed as the first external “partner” to that effort.

A joint statement from the defense ministers of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia released on Monday also indicated that Japan was on the verge of joining AUKUS in some capacity.

“Recognizing Japan’s strengths and its close bilateral defense partnerships with all three countries, we are considering cooperation with Japan on AUKUS Pillar II advanced capability projects,” it said, referring to the official name for the single industrial base.

Diplomatic triangulation

The efforts come as tensions boil over in the South China Sea, with China Coast Guard ships using water cannons against Philippine boats trying to supply a naval station at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.

Ships and aircraft from the Philippines, the United States, Japan and Australia over the weekend carried out military exercises in the South China Sea ahead of this week’s high-profile meetings in Washington.

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USS Mobile, JS Akebono, HMAS Warramunga, BRP Antonio Luna and BRP Valentine Diaz sail in formation during a multilateral maritime cooperative activity involving Australia, the United States, Japan and the Philippines off the coast within the Philippines exclusive economic zone, April 7, 2024. [POIS Leo Baumgartner/Royal Australian Navy]

Kishida is to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday, with Kishida, Marcos and Biden then set to meet on Thursday in what has been billed as the three countries’ first-ever trilateral meeting.

American officials said that Biden would likely “express concerns” about the situation around the Second Thomas Shoal during the meetings, and remind Beijing that the Philippines is a key American ally, according to a report by the Financial Times that quoted a senior U.S. official.

“China is underestimating the potential for escalation. We’ve tried to make that clear in a series of conversations,” the official said. “Our mutual defense treaty covers Philippine sailors and ships.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Beijing was “gravely concerned” by the growing cooperation of U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific, which she said was “stoking bloc confrontation.” 

“The U.S., the U.K. and Australia have kept sending signals of AUKUS expansion, co-opting some countries to come on board and escalating an arms race in the Asia-Pacific to the detriment of peace and stability in the region,” Mao told reporters on Monday.


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