Report to Congress on Japan-U.S. Relations

April 9, 2021 5:34 AM

The following is the April 6, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress.

From the report

Japan is a significant partner of the United States in a number of foreign policy areas, including addressing regional security concerns, which range from hedging against Chinese military modernization to countering threats from North Korea. The U.S.-Japan military alliance, formed in 1952, grants the U.S. military the right to base U.S. troops—currently around 54,000 strong—and other military assets on Japanese territory, undergirding the “forward deployment” of U.S. troops in East Asia. In return, the United States pledges to help defend Japan. The two countries collaborate through multiple bilateral and multilateral institutions on issues such as science and technology, global health, energy, and agriculture.

With new leadership in both capitals since September 2020, the two countries have moved quickly to reaffirm their relationship and to embark on new initiatives, from utilizing the “Quad” framework with Australia and India to expanding climate and energy cooperation. Whereas alliance relations under former President Trump and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe relied heavily on personal rapport between leaders, President Biden and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga may revert to a more traditional partnership that relies more on institutionalized ties. Suga has pledged continuity in foreign policy, and Biden has emphasized rejuvenating bilateral alliances to deal with issues like North Korean denuclearization as well as China’s maritime assertiveness, human rights violations, and attempts to set new economic rules and norms through its growing outward investment. In 2021, both U.S. and Japanese leaders are likely to prioritize parallel domestic challenges of curbing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and promoting economic recovery, which could reduce their focus on foreign policy issues.

Over the past decade, U.S.-Japan defense cooperation has improved and evolved in response to security challenges, such as the North Korean missile threat and the confrontation between Japan and China over disputed islands. Despite these advances, Japan has indicated some desire to develop a more autonomous defense posture that is less reliant on U.S. protection. Additional concerns remain about the implementation of an agreement to relocate the controversial Futenma base on Okinawa and burden-sharing negotiations that have been postponed to 2022. Although a five-year agreement on how much Japan pays to defray the cost of hosting U.S. troops will expire in April 2021, the two sides have agreed to postpone negotiations until next year.

Japan is the United States’ fourth-largest overall trading partner, Japanese firms are the second-largest source of foreign direct investment in the United States, and Japanese investors are the largest foreign holders of U.S. treasuries. Tensions in the trade relationship increased under the Trump Administration with renewed focus on the bilateral U.S. trade deficit, particularly in motor vehicles, which account for roughly one-third of Japan’s annual exports to the United States. A limited trade agreement went into effect in January 2020 that includes tariff cuts and digital trade commitments by both sides. The Biden Administration has not signaled whether it will prioritize further trade talks with Japan, which the Trump Administration promised but did not pursue, despite urging from many in Congress. The Biden Administration has emphasized working with allies like Japan to meet the economic challenges posed by China.

With the major opposition parties in disarray, the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP’s) dominance of Japanese politics does not appear to be threatened. However, Prime Minister Suga could potentially face a leadership challenge from within the party. Among his biggest challenges is hosting the 2021 Summer Olympic Games amidst a global pandemic. The Games were postponed in 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading.

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