Biden’s summit with Japanese leader marks a turning point

  By Ishaan Tharoor
with Sammy Westfall
Biden’s summit with Japanese leader marks a turning pointThe U.K, Japan and U.S. carrier strike groups sail to conduct multiple operations in the Philippine Sea in October 2021. (Gray Gibson/U.S. Indo-Pacific Command/AP)The U.K, Japan and U.S. carrier strike groups sail to conduct multiple operations in the Philippine Sea in October 2021. (Gray Gibson/U.S. Indo-Pacific Command/AP)Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet with President Biden at the White House on Friday. Kishida arrives in Washington at the end of a major tour through Europe and Canada that belies his troubles at home, with various scandals and ministerial resignations already raising questions about the longevity of his tenure. His foreign sojourn offered a degree of respite and a chance to highlight his diplomatic bona fides in a year when Japan will host the Group of Seven industrialized nations summit. Biden and Kishida’s tête-à-tête also comes during a significant shift in Japan’s role on the world stage. Last December, Kishida’s government unveiled a new national security strategy that would nearly double Japan’s outlay on defense and take steps once taboo under the strictures of the nation’s pacifist postwar constitution, including securing the capability to hit enemy ground positions with long-range missiles.Kishida’s stance follows on the hawkish legacy of late Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who sought for years to add a new muscularity to Japan’s defense posture, conditioned for decades by defeat in World War II as well as the benefit of sheltering beneath the U.S. security umbrella. It reflects Tokyo’s mounting fears over China’s military rise and expansionist proclivities, concerns that were only compounded last year by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beyond strategic worries over what China may have in store for Taiwan, Japan has long-running territorial disputes with both Beijing and Moscow.“This was a major a decision that we had to make,” Kishida told my colleague Josh Rogin, referring to the revised national security strategy. “We have had to question whether we will be able to defend the lives, the livelihood and the industry of the Japanese people and the country.”In Germany, the war in Ukraine prompted discussion of a “Zeitenwende” — a turning point, a hinge moment in history when the shock of the present forced leaders in Berlin to move beyond the deeply ingrained shibboleths of the past. Of course, it’s still an open debate to what extent Germany has pivoted away from its postwar pacifism and ambivalent approach toward Moscow. But some analysts contend that the Zeitenwende is about more than just Germany — indeed more than just Europe — and that the world forged in the wake of the explosion of the war in Ukraine reflects an end to idealism in the international system and a return to more hard power-based realpolitik.“In this brave new-old world, military power will once again assert its primacy in international affairs, with economic, political and ‘soft’ power lining up as its attendants,” wrote Bloomberg Opinion columnist Andreas Kluth. “This will raise the profile of the martial — such as the U.S. — and lower that of the meek, including the mercantile and post-heroic European Union.” Whatever the case in Europe, Japan seems to be experiencing its own Zeitenwende. “Ukraine today may be Asia tomorrow,” Kishida told Rogin, who interviewed Kishida just before he embarked on his week-long tour of the West. “Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force are not acceptable.”“Japan’s transition from pacifism to regional protector is not yet complete, but there is now no denying it is well underway,” wrote Zack Cooper and Eric Sayers of the American Enterprise Institute.Kishida’s move reflects a growing recognition that Japan needs greater deterrence capabilities in the neighborhood where it sits.“Japan is now moving toward having not only a ‘shield’ but also a ‘spear,’” said Kazuhiro Maeshima, political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, to my colleagues. “Japan is taking a step away from a defensive alliance. The Japan-U. S. alliance must not be merely an alliance maintenance, but must also be utilized as an alliance projection to prevent China from changing the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region.”This shift is welcome in Washington. “Japan is stepping up big time and doing so in lockstep with the United States, partners in the Indo-Pacific, and in Europe,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “President Biden’s investment in our alliances is paying huge dividends to bolster deterrence and advance peace and security in the Indo-Pacific — and globally.”In an interview with The Washington Post, Rahm Emanuel, U.S. ambassador to Japan, said Biden and Kishida have worked to “shrink the distance between the trans-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific into a single strategic sphere,” a realignment, the U.S. envoy argued, that is “probably one of the biggest developments that the two leaders have produced.”But it’s hardly universally popular in Japan, where domestic disquiet with Kishida’s government has grown and a majority of Japanese, according to opinion polls, oppose increased taxes to bankroll greater defense spending.“Although most of the Japanese public wants more muscular defense capabilities, the majority disapproves of Kishida’s plan to raise taxes to do so, amid stagnant wages and rising inflation rates the country has not seen in three decades,” wrote my colleague Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “Japan plans to hike its defense budget to the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of gross domestic product, which would make it the third-largest in the world — but the majority of Japanese disapprove his plan to raise taxes to do so, amid stagnant wages and rising inflation rates the country has not seen in three decades.”Perhaps sensing the brewing backlash at home, the Japanese leader has contended that the new policy direction are guided by imperatives out of Tokyo’s control. “The reality is that the leader of a country cannot choose the era in which the person takes that leadership position,” Kishida told The Post. 1,000 WordsHow bad is China’s covid surge? The Post’s Lily Kuo answers questions about China and its health system, which is left unprepared and overwhelmed in what may be the world’s largest covid-19 outbreak. (Chinatopix/AP) Talking Points• Authorities in Brazil asked a federal court to block $1.3 million in assets belonging to 52 people and seven companies alleged to have helped fund the buses that carried supporters of defeated former president Jair Bolsonaro to the riot in the capital.• Ukrainian troops are waging “fierce battles” against Russian forces in Soledar, Ukraine’s army said, as both sides seek to control the narrative of a bloody fight for the salt mining town in eastern Ukraine. But as of Thursday night, Russian forces likely control most of the city, according to geolocated footage cited by analysts.• A U.S. Navy veteran who had been detained in Russia for nine months was released, officials said. Taylor Dudley, 35, of Michigan, had been held since April in the Russian province of Kaliningrad, located between Poland and Lithuania.• Paris correspondent Rick Noack reports from an Alpine ski resort in Les Gets, France, which should have been covered by thick layers of snow this month. Instead, Europe’s unusually warm winter closed half of French slopes and forced the cancellation of winter sports competitions. It may only be a preview of what is to come in a warming world, researchers worry.• Seventeen protesters and bystanders in the remote region of Puno, Peru were killed in clashes with security forces during a single 24-hour period this week, the latest chapter in Peru’s unremitting political crisis, prompting accusations of brutality motivated by official racism. They brought the death toll since president Pedro Castillo’s ouster Dec. 7 to 47. Top of The PostFuror over documents creates unexpected political peril for BidenBy Matt Viser, Marianna Sotomayor and Yasmeen Abutaleb ●  Read more » Inflation slowed further in December for the sixth month in a rowBy Rachel Siegel ●  Read more » A Yorkie was dognapped. A man who hunted al-Qaeda came to the rescue.By Justin Jouvenal and Dana Hedgpeth  ●  Read more »  ViewpointsThe Brazilian military is culpable in the January 8 riotBy Rafael Moro Martins, translated by Elias Bresnick | Foreign Exchanges ●  Read more » Prince Harry’s book undermines the very idea of monarchyBy Helen Lewis | The Atlantic ●  Read more » Lula is giving a lesson in how to respond to right-wing attacks on democracyBy Craig Johnson | Jacobin ●  Read more »  No new leadersRussian President Vladimir Putin and Gen. Valery Gerasimov attend a Defense Ministry meeting in Moscow. (Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gen. Valery Gerasimov attend a Defense Ministry meeting in Moscow. (Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)With the appointment of Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s highest-ranking military officer, as direct operational commander of the troubled war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has doubled down on his conviction that the invasion’s objectives can be achieved without new leadership — and is now turning to a trusted confidant who will carry out his orders without question, analysts said.“Gerasimov’s appointment is likely intended to support an intended decisive Russian military effort in 2023,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in an analysis Wednesday.“Putin has repeatedly demonstrated he misunderstands the capabilities of Russian forces and has not abandoned his maximalist war aims in Ukraine,” the analysis said. “Putin may have appointed Gerasimov, the highest-ranking officer in the Russian military, to succeed a series of theater commanders to oversee a major offensive that Putin — likely incorrectly — believes Russian forces can accomplish in 2023.”Other analysts said Gerasimov was potentially being set up to take the fall for further Russian failures on the battlefield. And still others speculated that Gerasimov, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, were moving to reassert control for traditional military leaders over irregular forces led by Wagner mercenary group chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin and strongman Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.Gerasimov, 67, an army general and deputy defense minister, has been chief of the General Staff for more than a decade and is a Kremlin insider who had a key role in planning the war from the start. As head of the joint forces in Ukraine, he replaces Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who in just three months leading the war effort was credited with stabilizing Russia’s positions after Ukraine recaptured large swaths of territory.Some experts said personal rivalries were in the mix. “Shoigu and Gerasimov demoted Surovikin, and put Gerasimov in charge of the operation in Ukraine, demoting their most competent senior commander and replacing him with an incompetent one,” tweeted Dara Massicot, an analyst of Russian defense issues at the Rand Corp. “This is a story that has it all: infighting, power struggles, jealousy.”Moscow’s latest abrupt reshuffling of its top commanders, announced by the Defense Ministry but undoubtedly approved by Putin himself, left seasoned Kremlin watchers with their heads spinning. In Russia, many war hawks were irate that Gerasimov, whom they blame for the abysmal planning that led to repeated battlefield defeats, is now directly in charge as the war drags through its 11th month.A career officer with nearly 50 years of service, Gerasimov is a conservative and experienced field commander who joined the Soviet army in 1977 and ascended the ranks through the tank corps. Surovikin, who earned the nickname “General Armageddon” because of his use of brutal tactics as a commander in Syria, essentially has now been demoted to Gerasimov’s deputy.Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security affairs, said Surovikin’s demotion revealed Putin’s tendency to associate people with problems. “He thinks that all it takes is a new person,” Galeotti said in an interview. “He thinks that this was Surovikin’s gambit, and now he has to suffer for it.” – Francesca EbelRead more: Russia’s new commander reflects Putin’s plan to push for victory in Ukraine Afterword   We think you’ll like this newsletterCheck out Must Reads for a curated selection of our best journalism in your inbox every Saturday, plus a peek behind the scenes into how one story came together. Sign up » 
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