Japan, US could move to virtual meeting of foreign and defense leaders

Japan and the United States are considering changing their scheduled in-person meeting of their foreign and defense chiefs in January to a virtual format due to the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, people familiar with the matter said. .

Arrangements had been made for Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to travel to Washington for “two plus two” talks with their American counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary at Defense Lloyd Austin, Jan. 7.

A rapid rise in omicron cases in the United States has led both sides to consider holding a virtual meeting instead on Jan. 7 or 8, the sources said on Friday.

The first two plus two meeting under the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October, aims to demonstrate the strength of the bilateral alliance in the face of China’s growing military power. The Heads of Foreign Affairs and Defense are expected to deepen cooperation in the fields of space and cyberspace.

Hayashi and Blinken were expected to sign an agreement on host nation support for U.S. forces stationed in Japan covering the five years from April, but the two sides will consider other options, the sources said.

One option is for former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who was confirmed by the Senate last week as the next US Ambassador to Japan, to sign him once he arrives in Japan.

After bilateral negotiations, Japan agreed to pay 1.05 trillion yen ($ 9.2 billion) over a five-year period.

With the cancellation of his trip to the United States being considered, Hayashi is unlikely to attend a UN review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ahead of the two plus two meeting, said. the sources.

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