TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and visiting U.S. lawmakers on Saturday reaffirmed their commitment to work together under a long-standing bilateral alliance at a time of heightened global tensions, including threats from China and North Korea.
At a breakfast meeting, the delegation, led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, agreed with Kishida on the importance of maintaining a “free and open Indo-Pacific region,” according to the State Department.
The visits of the six legislators follow theirs previous stop in Taiwan, in which they made a pointed and public statement of their support for the autonomous island democracy while issuing a warning to China. They met with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Friday.
China conducted military exercises near Taiwan in protest of the delegation’s visit. Spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was ready to “take strong action to resolutely secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Japan has long been nervous about China’s possible invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory to be united by force if necessary. China and Taiwan split after a civil war in 1949.
Concerns in Tokyo, especially among conservative politicians seeking a more assertive role for their military, have increased since the war in Ukraine. The issue is sensitive because Japan’s pacifist constitution, adopted after its defeat in World War II, prohibits the use of force in international conflicts. Japan holds its overseas military operations for peacekeeping and humanitarian relief.
Japan does not officially recognize Taiwan, but it does maintain friendly relations. China opposes any official exchange between Taiwan and other foreign governments.
The question of whether the United States would intervene in the case of China’s attack on Taiwan remains open. Analysts say Japan’s role in such a hypothetical situation is even more obscure because Japan is hosting a huge US military presence under the alliance.
Kishida told the representatives of the Congress that the bilateral alliance replaced political party divisions and sought their understanding of Japan’s role in the work towards peace and prosperity in the region. Tokyo also called for US support for Japan’s ongoing efforts to bring home Japanese who were abducted by North Korea decades ago, the ministry said. North Korea returned some of the abducted people in 2004.
The U.S. delegation also includes Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Rep. Ronny Jackson from Texas.
Associated Press Writer Huizhong Wu of Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.
Wu is on Twitter https://twitter.com/huizhong_wu
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama