Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is due to hold talks via video link with US President Joe Biden on Friday, with security issues, trade, the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and climate change all high on the agenda – although analysts suggest the biggest positive from Japan’s perspective is that talks between the two leaders are finally taking place. Speaking in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the discussions were expected to underline the importance of the Japan-US alliance and the two nations’ commitment to ensuring a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region. “We hope the first virtual meeting in 2022 between the two leaders will serve as an occasion to show the world the unwavering bond under the Japan-US alliance and take it to a higher level,” Matsuno said. That position was echoed in Washington by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who said the meeting would “highlight the strength of the US-Japan alliance, which is the cornerstone of peace, security and stability in the Indo-Pacific and around the world”. Kishida and Biden spoke on the telephone in October, shortly after Kishida replaced Yoshihide Suga as prime minister, and had a brief conversation on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in Scotland in November, but more substantive discussions have had to be delayed, to Japan’s discomfort. “From the Japanese perspective, the most important thing is that these talks are happening at all and the content is of secondary importance,” said James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. “Kishida has been very eager to establish himself on the international stage and wanted an in-person meeting with Japan’s most important ally, so the government here has been looking for an opportunity to go to the United States but the timing has been difficult,” he added. From the Japanese perspective, the most important thing is that these talks are happening at all James Brown Both leaders have had to deal with major domestic issues, not least the ongoing pandemic, and travelling to Washington while coronavirus infection numbers were still high would not have sent a positive message to the Japanese people, Brown suggested, with Kishida wary of doing so ahead of the elections for the Upper House of the Diet in the summer. Given that the two governments’ positions were largely unchanged on the biggest issues, Brown said it is unlikely that “anything substantially new” would come out of the discussions. “The two sides have already overcome their differences on Japan’s financial contribution to US forces stationed in Japan, but I do expect them to again make comments expressing their shared concern about China ’s [actions in the region],” he said. One issue that Beijing will be closely watching will be a statement on the Taiwan Strait, which was mentioned for the first time in two-by-two talks in November between Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Hayashi earlier in the week assumed a stiffer position with regard to China than he has done in the past, saying he would strengthen Japan’s alliance with the US at the same time as building up Japan’s military capabilities to ensure “peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.” Kishida puts military strike option on table for Japan, in ‘show to China’ Brown pointed out that Hayashi had come under sustained criticism from some within Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party for being soft on China, “So this tougher stance may well be his way of counteracting that and demonstrating that he’s not the ‘panda hugger’ that some claim.” Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, agreed that the discussions would largely serve as an opportunity for the two sides to reaffirm the importance of the alliance at a time of growing pressures, both from Beijing, which is refusing to reverse an aggressively expansionist course in the region, and North Korea , which has dramatically stepped-up provocative missile launches in the early weeks of the new year. “I expect the two leaders to hold to a common position on Taiwan that maintains the present status quo and underlines the importance of Taiwan to the security of both Japan and the wider region,” he said. Nagy expected Kishida and Biden to “double-down” on the one-China policy in an effort to maintain that status quo, simultaneously sending a message to deter any groups in Taiwan who might interpret their comments as support for a declaration of independence. And even though Biden was quick to underline Washington’s support for Japan’s control over East China Sea islands that Beijing claims and refers to as the Diaoyus but Tokyo calls the Senkakus, Nagy expected that Kishida would be keen for his US counterpart to repeat that position. Other issues likely to be addressed included economic security and ways to strengthen supply chains, particularly in the areas of semiconductors and the rare earth minerals that are critical to Japan’s automobile industry, as well as a commitment to deal with the coronavirus as swiftly as possible to get the world “back on track”, he said.