Japan to play placeholder role in Asia as Biden gets his house in order

Japan to play placeholder role in Asia as Biden gets his house in order

When U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy gets the boot on Jan. 20, it will be replaced by Joe Biden’s more outward-looking and cooperative approach in Asia — one in which Japan is widely expected to play an integral part.

As Washington looks warily at China’s rise, it will aim for Japan to play a placeholder role as the Biden White House focuses immediately on reining in the coronavirus pandemic that has left about 340,000 dead in the U.S.

“They’ll have no choice but to take care of that damage first,” a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity. “This will be less about (the Asia-Pacific region) being lowered in priority than about repairing that damage.”

In the meantime, Tokyo “will continue to act as a ‘placeholder’ for the incoming administration,” standing in for the U.S. and buying Biden valuable time as he focuses on his domestic agenda, said Stephen Nagy, an expert on Asian geopolitics at International Christian University in Tokyo.

Beyond China, Japan will be particularly interested to see how the next U.S. president tackles trade, regional security as well as its relationships with Southeast Asia and the two Koreas, all while he also keeps one eye on the pandemic.