TOKYO (Reuters): New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (pic) said on Tuesday (Oct 5) that he received a "strong" message from President Joe Biden about the United States' commitment to defending the disputed East China Sea islets known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.
In phone talks on Tuesday morning that lasted roughly 20 minutes, the allies also confirmed their cooperation toward achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific, Kishida told reporters at the prime minister's official residence.
The call came a day after Kishida called a parliamentary election for Oct 31 and vowed to bolster the country's response to the pandemic. He was voted in by lawmakers on Monday as the nation's new prime minister.
"We confirmed that we would work together toward the strengthening of the Japan-US alliance and free and open Indo-Pacific," Kishida said. "We also confirmed we would work closely on issues related to China and North Korea."
"Especially, the president made a strong comment on the US commitment to defend Japan, including the Article 5 of the US-Japan security treaty," Kishida added, referring to US defence obligations to Japan, which cover the uninhabited island.
Japan has become increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in the East China Sea, including incursions into waters around the disputed islands, known as the Diaoyus in China.
Kishida, a 64-year-old former foreign minister with an image as a consensus builder, unveiled a cabinet lineup dominated by allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso.
Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe's brother, kept his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida's intention to continue Abe's push to boost security ties with Washington while preserving trade ties with China.
The new prime minister is also expected to deepen engagement with the United States, Australia, India and Japan - known as the Quad - which Beijing sees as an effort to contain its rise.
Kishida, who is from a traditionally dovish LDP faction, had tacked to the right as he campaigned to be the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), reflecting a broader shift in the LDP spurred by Abe's record-long tenure.
Kishida has said that acquiring the ability to strike enemy bases, a controversial step backed by Abe, was a viable option and that he would appoint an aide to monitor China's treatment of its Uyghur minority. China denies accusations of abuse.
The most pressing regional issue for the US-Japan alliance is tensions over Taiwan, which has reported 148 Chinese air force planes in its air defence identification zone over four days beginning on Friday.
"We hope that this matter is resolved peacefully between the two parties through direct talks, and we will continue to keep a close watch on the matter," said Motegi in his inaugural news conference.
"Additionally, instead of simply monitoring the situation, we hope to weigh the various possible scenarios that may arise to consider what options we have, as well as the preparations we must make," Motegi added.
One of Kishida's appointments garnering most attention is that of the new post of economy security minister. Kishida filled it with Takayuki Kobayashi, a 46-year-old graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School and Tokyo University, who has worked on policies aimed at protecting sensitive technology from China in areas such as supply chains and cyber security.