Ahead of Biden’s First Visit to Asia, Hagerty Urges President to Seize Opportunities to Advance U.S. Interests and Counter Communist China

May 18, 2022

“I believe there is strong bipartisan consensus in Congress when it comes to the Indo-Pacific—and when it comes to the rising opportunities that we see before us to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance and the Quad. I urge President Biden to seize these growing opportunities that I have outlined […] As the only former American Ambassador serving in this body and as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I stand ready to work with him if he does” 

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor, imploring President Joe Biden to capitalize on opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance and confront the China Challenge when he takes his first trip to Asia as President this weekend. Hagerty’s call comes after leading the first bipartisan congressional delegation trip to Japan since the pandemic began last month.

*Click to photo above or here to watch*

Remarks as Prepared

Mr. President,

With the President of the United States soon departing on his first Asia trip, I rise to speak today about U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific—an area of the world that I know well, having served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan prior to joining the United States Senate.

While U.S. foreign policy in recent months has focused largely on Eastern Europe, we cannot take our attention away from our nation’s greatest strategic adversary:  namely, the Chinese Communist Party. 

Confronting Communist China is the essential responsibility of our time, as the China Challenge—and how the U.S. and our allies respond to it—will determine whether freedom or autocracy defines the 21st century. 

That is why I am pleased to see President Joe Biden investing the time and energy to travel to South Korea and Japan this weekend. 

I can tell you just how critical I believe this trip is, because I made a similar trip just last month. In April, I led the first congressional delegation to visit Japan since the pandemic began.

I was joined by my colleagues, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

During our six days in Japan, our bipartisan delegation met with the country’s top leaders, including the prime minister, his Cabinet members, parliamentarians, and top leaders from Japanese industry.

I think it’s fair to say that our delegation returned with a great sense of optimism—optimism about the opportunities that lie before our two nations to increase our cooperation diplomatically, militarily, economically, and technologically and, by so doing, to strengthen our alliance. 

While I certainly have policy disagreements with the current Administration, I am hopeful that this is one area in which we can find common ground. The fate of our nation, and the world, depends on it. 

This challenge, quite frankly, is too important to get wrong. 

And so I am hopeful that President Biden will seize upon the opportunities presented to him in the Indo-Pacific region to confront the China Challenge head on—and that this trip will provide him with greater perspective to do so. 

I am pleased to see this Administration maintain a focus on the Indo-Pacific region—a focus that President Trump began, and that I personally was proud to help lead from my diplomatic post in Tokyo. I also applaud President Biden for the actions that he’s taken to engage the Quad at the Leader level. 

Much more can be done.

In terms of strengthening our diplomatic cooperation, the United States should warmly welcome Japan’s proactive leadership in response to recent international crises.

Japan is the world’s third biggest economy and a major financial player on the world stage.

Japan is also a member of the G7.

In the days after Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, the Kishida government joined in imposing strong multilateral sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

Japan’s support on sanctions is as important as it is necessary.

I saw this firsthand when, as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, I worked with then-Prime Minister Abe and his administration to comply fully with U.S. secondary sanctions and end Japan’s purchases of Iranian oil in 2018. With Japan’s help, we dramatically reduced Iran’s revenue stream and its ability to fund terror at that time.

And we see Japan’s importance today with regard to multilateral sanctions against Russia.

Going forward, the United States must do its utmost to ensure that Japan always has a seat at the table on major international issues.

Indeed, I was very pleased to see Foreign Minister Hayashi become the first Japanese cabinet member to attend a NATO ministerial when he traveled to Brussels in early April. And I’m even more please to learn that Prime Minister Kishida is considering attending the NATO Summit in Spain next month.

Here, I see an opportunity for the United States to engage further with Japan and NATO by exploring new ways to expand high-level diplomatic interactions and information sharing.

When I made this suggestion to Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in early May, I was glad to see my suggestion well received.

The second opportunity that I see is in the area of improving defense and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.

The United States and Japan must further increase coordination on defense planning and procurement as Japan looks to significantly boost its spending on defense.

Japan has already begun the process of rewriting its national security strategy and its related national defense strategy.

At the same time, leaders in Tokyo see growing support from the Japanese people to roughly double Japan’s defense spending to two-percent of GDP.

These developments come at a critical moment.

Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party have their eyes set on Taiwan, and they are surely learning lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continues to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, as he poses grave and gathering threats to the United States and our allies in the region.

Our nations therefore must act with great urgency to strengthen defense and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.

In particular, the United States must encourage Japan to use their increased spending to field—as rapidly as possible—new defense capabilities that are mobile, lethal, and interoperable.  

Japan must also significantly improve its cybersecurity capabilities and its ability to share intelligence and information with allies.

And it’s critical that the American and Japanese militaries expand joint training exercises with each other. 

I’ve had the honor of witnessing firsthand the success of our joint training exercises and I encourage our nations to expand this invaluable training.

The third area where I see opportunity is on energy security—an area in which we should be working together. 

This was a message that I heard last month in Japan as leaders expressed concern with America’s current energy policies. 

I worked hard to encourage Japan to make significant investments in LNG infrastructure to allow greater LNG exports from the U.S. in order to strengthen our two nations’ energy security and national security. 

I hope President Biden’s visit will underscore the significance of American strength as an energy exporter to enhance the security of our allies.

But all members of the Quad must engage on the critical topic of energy security.

India is the world’s biggest democracy and now has an opportunity to decrease its energy and military reliance on Russia, and Australia is a significant energy exporter.

When Secretary Blinken recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I pointed out to him that the Quad already has high-level working groups on COVID-19 vaccines, infrastructure, critical and emerging technologies, space, cybersecurity, and environmental matters.

But my argument to him was that adding a new working group in the Quad—one focused specifically on energy security—makes strong strategic sense, as energy security is inextricably linked to economic security and national security.

Frankly, it is surprising to me that the Quad hasn’t already made this issue a primary focus.

Secretary Blinken appeared to appreciate the suggestion, and I emphatically urge the Administration to take this idea to heart and dedicate time and energy to discussing energy security in our Quad strategic grouping.

We cannot afford further delay on this.

The fourth area of opportunity that I see is in technology.

The United States and Japan already cooperate closely in this space.

That was a point that I sought to underscore in many of our meetings with Japan’s private sector leaders.

I see growing opportunities for our Quad partners to ensure our respective technology sectors continue to work together—and to generate trusted alternatives in 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and other strategic technologies.

When I served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, I helped the U.S. and Japanese governments coordinate closely to counter Huawei and China’s other heavily-subsidized companies, and to clear them from the 5G markets of our respective economies.

This was important because Chinese companies like Huawei pose grave and growing national security and espionage risks. 

Our U.S.-Japan strategy prevented Huawei and other Chinese Communist Party-directed technology firms from obtaining the global scale that they sought in their effort dominate international markets.

It also created openings for firms in the United States, Japan, and partner countries to pursue trusted 5G alternatives and supply chains, including software-defined networks and ORAN technologies.

With each passing year, the technology competition with China is only intensifying.

It is therefore imperative the U.S-Japan alliance and the Quad increase coordination and innovation in response to technological competition.

The fifth opportunity is in economic leadership in the Indo-Pacific.

When President Biden visits the region, I expect him to speak more about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

It’s clear that many of our Allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific are eager to see more U.S. economic leadership.

A shortcoming of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, however, is that it lacks provisions for increasing market access.

As a next step, the U.S. should take the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’s data provisions and turn them into a standalone, sector-specific free trade agreement.

The Executive Branch should look at the U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement of 2019 as a good starting point.

This is the most comprehensive and high-standards agreement addressing digital trade barriers.

I was proud to help then-U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer negotiate this and other bilateral trade agreements with Japan. 

Our efforts brought about a more fair and reciprocal trading relationship between our two nations, helping not only our economies but also our workers.

The Biden Administration has rightly maintained the Trump Administration’s tariffs on China as important leverage to uphold fair and reciprocal trade. This is a critical tool in our arsenal, and I hope the current Administration continues to use it. 

There certainly are other areas where the Administration must hold the line against China. 

The Administration needs to do more to hold Communist China accountable for unleashing the COVID-19 pandemic upon the world.

It also needs to press Beijing to stop the deadly flow of Chinese-origin fentanyl and fentanyl precursors from pouring across the Southern Border and killing more than 100,000 Americans annually through overdoses. 

And we all know what’s at stake when it comes to China’s growing military threats against Taiwan.

I personally believe the last Administration set a high standard on countering China, and I hope the current Administration builds on that success.

I believe there is strong bipartisan consensus in Congress when it comes to the Indo-Pacific—and when it comes to the rising opportunities that we see before us to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance and the Quad. 

So I urge President Biden to seize these growing opportunities that I have outlined when he travels to the Indo-Pacific.

As the only former American Ambassador serving in this body and as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I stand ready to work with him if he does.

Thank you, Madam President, I yield the floor.