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The myth of China-Japan decoupling

TOKYO – Yoshihide Suga isn’t known for his acrobatic skills. Nor is kabuki theatre the Japanese prime minister’s thing. But Suga is proving his proficiency in both disciplines as he joins hands with US President Joe Biden against China.

Suga, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party veteran, surely agrees with the spirit of Biden’s push to safeguard Taiwan’s democracy and limit China’s economic dominance. But he’s also learning that China is the only economic game in town for his deflation-plagued nation.

Data released on April 16, the same day Suga was at the White House meeting Biden, showed China grew a world-beating 18.3% year-on-year in the first quarter. That comes at a time when Japan is suffering a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections that look sure to derail recovery hopes.

Three days later, though, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government put Suga’s China-US tightrope act into even starker relief. A surge in China-bound shipments, particularly tech-sector goods, produced Japan’s biggest export jump in more than three years. Exports rose an above-consensus 16.1% in March from a year earlier.