The United States and Japan are expected to hold virtual talks this week in which they will renew their vow to secure the Indo-Pacific region amid growing challenges from China and North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi on Thursday for the virtual U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee ("2+2") meeting.
"During the meeting, the delegations will discuss ways the United States and Japan can strengthen our alliance to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region and to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and other global challenges," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
The meeting comes the same day that Japanese and Australian leaders are expected to sign a new security agreement aimed at setting out for the first time a framework for the countries' defense forces to work together.
When asked about the emerging security agreements among Japan, Australia, India and the United States — informally known as "the Quad" — China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed wariness.
Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters during a regular briefing that Beijing believes state-to-state cooperation should improve "mutual understanding and trust among countries in the region" and safeguard regional peace and stability, rather than targeting or undermining the interest of any third party.
The first "2+2" meeting in 2022 between the United States and Japan comes shortly after Blinken's in-person talks with Hayashi on the sidelines of the Group of Seven foreign ministerial meeting in December in Liverpool, England.
G-7 countries had called on North Korea for a "complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment" of all unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
Earlier on Wednesday, North Korea launched an apparent ballistic missile in Pyongyang's first weapons test of the new year, according to reports by South Korea and Japan.
The U.S. has said it continues to consult closely with South Korea and Japan and other partners to seek a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy.
"We have no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We are prepared to meet without preconditions," Price said Tuesday in response to questions from VOA. He was referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Japanese officials have voiced opposition to Chinese activities seen as attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo by force in the East and South China seas, while declaring the importance of "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Strait.
As Japan is set to review its national security and defense posture in 2022, some experts say rising threats from China are driving the U.S. and Japan to strengthen military collaboration.
A few weeks ago, U.S. Marines and members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force launched their largest bilateral training exercise of the year, known as Resolute Dragon 2021. That exercise took place at multiple training locations across Japan from December 4 to 17.
"There is no question that Japan is gearing up to do more in a Taiwan contingency," Mike Green, the senior vice president for Asia at Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA on Wednesday.
While Japan's pacifist constitution imposes restrictions that prevent the island nation from getting involved in a potential military conflict outside its own territory, such as near the Taiwan Strait, Green said developments in recent years have pushed Japan to make a gradual shift.
"That shifted first with the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis, when China's PLA (People's Liberation Army) launched missiles and exercises in the vicinity of Japanese islands. That crisis propelled the first revision of bilateral defense guidelines to deal with contingencies in the region."
At that time, the U.S. dispatched two carrier battle groups to waters surrounding Taiwan as China conducted missile tests during the run-up to Taiwan's first democratic presidential election.
In 2015, Green added, then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe changed his interpretation of the constitution and passed legislation allowing "collective self-defense" with the U.S., which removed the major obstacle to doing more.
Washington and Tokyo are discussing an early visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the White House, which would be his first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden since becoming Japan's leader in October.