Japan welcomes new US Indo-Pacific economic initiative

Tokyo, May 20 (AP) Japan welcomes a new US economic initiative for the Indo-Pacific that President Joe Biden is expected to roll out during a visit to Tokyo next week because it demonstrates American commitment to a regional economic order that is not just about market access, an official said on Friday.

Biden is proposing the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the United States dropped out of in 2017 under former President Donald Trump.

Japan played a key role in bringing together the other 11 members of that pact, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

While details of the new initiative are still to be discussed in Tokyo, Japan has already expressed its support and says it is considering joining.

Noriyuki Shikata, Cabinet secretary for public affairs, said the IPEF is expected to focus more on supply chains and economic security than on issues in traditional trade agreements such as market access and tariffs.

My understanding is that IPEF and TPP are different, Shikata said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Japan still wishes to see the US come back to the TPP, and the reason we say so is because TPP and IPEF are different, he said.

We are hoping this IPEF will lead to … a more proactive engagement of the United States in the Indo-Pacific economic order.”

The US government has been trying to engage more with countries in the region. The framework, which was only announced on Tuesday, is still in its early stages and further details are unclear.

Shikata said it was not known if IPEF will be discussed during the Quad summit, a four-nation regional security framework Tokyo is hosting on Tuesday, when leaders from Australia and India will join Japan and the United States.

South Korea, under new President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is more willing to build closer ties with Tokyo and Washington, is also seen as interested in joining the Quad.

Asked about that possibility, Shikata said: The Quad means four countries and we don’t have any plans to change that name. So at this time we are focused on promoting practical cooperation among the four countries.”

The four Quad nations share concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the region and its increasingly capable armed forces, and stress the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific to strengthen a free, democratic and rules-based order in the region.

China views the grouping as a part of a US-led push to impede its economic and political rise.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticised what he called negative moves by Washington and Tokyo against Beijing during a video call with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

Shikata said it’s not a grouping directed against any country. (AP)