In January 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting to discuss the status and future of the US-Japan alliance.
The top one official reading indicated that the two leaders discussed issues essential to the alliance. Among them were defense cooperation, economic cooperation, countering Chinese aggression in the region, and broader coordination with the Quad (United States, Japan, Australia and India). Other regional partnerships such as ASEAN were also mentioned.
Nevertheless, the reading makes no reference to US-Japan technology cooperation.
Technological coordination between Washington and Tokyo has emerged as a central issue that can both deepen economic cooperation and strengthening defense cooperation between the two nations, including in the face of growing threats from China. The lack of reference to emerging technologies or technology supply chain coordination on the meeting agenda was a big missed opportunity. Among other things, a mere mention would have helped advance the agenda of the many U.S.-Japan technology coordination opportunities that exist in 2022.
Technology in new workflows
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of January’s meeting between Biden and Kishida was confirmation that the United States and Japan would establish a new ministerial-level economic policy advisory committee. Also known as the Two Plus Two Economic Dialogue, it will cover economic and diplomatic issues facing the two countries.
Details on possible participants and the structure of the upcoming dialogue have been scarce since its initial announcement in January. In order to make the most of this opportunity, the high-level discussion should certainly encompass topics such as strengthening US-Japan cooperation on emerging technology issues, including:
- Supply chain security and
- Development of Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) technology.
Traditional trade issues will likely drive this working group, along with methods to counter China in the region. Potential coordination on economic sanctions against Russia stemming from the war in Ukraine could also come into the discussion.
The recent announcement by the Biden administration of its plans for a Indo-Pacific economic framework means that certain technological issues should be discussed within the framework of the two-plus-two bilateral dialogue. Examples include:
- Developing digital trade agreements,
- Prevent the forced transfer of technology and localization of data,
- Protect cross-border data flows, and
- Strengthen consumer protection measures.
The United States and Japan have cooperated on these issues, including the signing of the landmark agreement U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement under the Trump administration. The language of this agreement could help guide Washington and Tokyo’s broader economic approach to IPEF on certain technology issues.
Two plus two subjects
The recent political positioning of the Biden and Kishida governments should also be considered when the two governments consider talking points at the new two plus two dialogue later this year. Among these topics are:
- The importance of critical and emerging technologies,
- Critical Technology Supply Chain Security,
- Advanced research and development (R&D), and
- The possibility of coordinated export controls, as well as
- Joint Economic and National Security Issues
In February, the Biden administration released its United States Indo-Pacific Strategy, which identifies the importance of addressing the challenge of the “technological power” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the Indo-Pacific. It calls for consideration of Quad cooperation on emerging technologies, cutting-edge cooperation on R&D in science and technology (S&T), artificial intelligence, quantum information science (QIS) and supplier diversification O-RAN, all of which are US-Japan domains. technology cooperation.
Continued U.S. attention to these issues as economic and security issues underscore the importance of including emerging technologies as part of the new two plus two economic dialogue framework.
Japan’s new national security strategy, to be released later in 2022, will likely address similar technological issues as critical to both national security and economic security. This would further strengthen the case for high-level technology coordination within the broader US-Japan relationship on economic issues. Moreover, it comes as Kishida’s government seeks ways to spend $6.8 billion on Japan’s semiconductor industry.
A missed opportunity
Biden and Kishida did not announce a timeline for the next session of the Joint High-Level Committee (JHLC) Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology. In this, they missed an opportunity to show how enhanced science and technology cooperation on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence quantum information science (QIS) could help boost early U.S.-Japan technology relations. of 2022.
The former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and White House Science Advisor Eric Lander resigned in February on intimidation charges. The position of United States Chief Technology Officer (USCTO) is also vacant. For these reasons, it is likely that the main two-pronged meeting to coordinate science and technology cooperation between the United States and Japan will remain on hold for the foreseeable future. This leaves the current approach of the Joint Working-Level Committee (JWLC), which last met in June 2021.
Strengthening cooperation with Taiwan
Another avenue U.S. and Japanese leaders have yet to address in technology-related engagements this year is deeper cooperation with Taiwan.
In response to global semiconductor supply chain challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) announced that it would establish two overseas factories, one in the US state of Arizona and one in the Japanese prefecture of Kumamoto. TSMC announced earlier this year that it would expand its planned $7 billion Kumamoto-based Japanese factory with additional spending of $1.6 billion to produce more 12-nanometer chips in response to continued chain constraints. supply.
Importantly, the US and Japan also need to find a way to coordinate to make cutting-edge chips smaller, whether 3nm or larger, to prevent Chinese industry from gain a long-term strategic advantage in this space.
In recent months, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Japan to abandon any strategic ambiguity with regard to Taiwan. And the Biden administration sent a bipartisan delegation of former national security officials meet taiwanese leadership in an effort to show U.S. support for Taiwan following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These broader strategic developments indicate that Washington and Tokyo should consider developing an informal trilateral working group that includes Taiwan to address securing tech chains.
The new two-plus-two economic dialogue between the United States and Japan could be the perfect place to coordinate before expanding their bilateral talks on semiconductors and supply chain to include Taiwanese representatives. A similar approach to include Taiwan could also take place at the Quad level, as leaders from the United States, Japan, Australia and India have shared concerns about the security of semi-supply chains. -drivers and their impact on the economic competitiveness of Quad Member States.
Issues related to emerging technologies have already been discussed during the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue (EPPD) in November 2021 and the US approach to partnering with Japan during former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to Washington in April 2021. Findings from both could help shape the Biden administration’s approach for future discussion and dialogue on this issue.
The Biden administration was right not to attempt to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP has potentially harmful impacts in the United States. Moreover, it lacks popular and political support, despite pressure from Japan. As a result, bilateral cooperation with countries like Japan in forums such as the New Two Plus Two Economic Dialogue, as well as in multilateral forums such as the Quad, will remain important in shaping the relationship between the two nations.
The resumption of the JHLC in one form or another to coordinate non-defense government efforts in the emerging tech space, as well as enhanced cooperation that includes Taiwan, should play a greater role in the broader bilateral relationship as as we progress to 2022.
Cooperation on strategic technology initiatives, supply chains, countering Chinese technology affirmation, and a longer-term approach to coordinated export controls should be at the top of any economic or technology-driven agenda for the United States and Japan over the coming year. The upcoming high-level meeting between US and Japanese leaders should make that clear.
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By: Erik M. Jacobs