Biden and Japan's Suga project unity against China's assertiveness

Published Sat, Apr 17, 2021 · 08:22 AM

[WASHINGTON] President Joe Biden on Friday sought to present a united front with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to counter an increasingly assertive China as the US leader held his first face-to-face White House summit since taking office.

Mr Biden hosted Mr Suga for talks that offered the Democratic president, inaugurated in January, a chance to work further on his pledge to revitalise US alliances that frayed under his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

China topped the agenda, underscoring Japan's central role in US efforts to face down Beijing. The two leaders addressed an array of geopolitical issues, including Taiwan, with Mr Suga saying they reaffirmed "the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait," a slap at Beijing's increased military pressure on the Chinese-claimed, self-ruled island.

"Today Prime Minister Mr Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for the US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security," Mr Biden told a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden, calling the discussions "productive." "We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific." Other pressing concerns at the talks included China's increased military movements near Taiwan, its tightening grip on Hong Kong and its crackdown on Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Mr Suga said he and Mr Biden agreed on the necessity of frank discussions with China in the context of Beijing's activities in the Indo-Pacific region.

The summit - Mr Biden's first in-person meeting with a foreign leader as president - came just days after China sent 25 aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, near Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province.

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"I refrain from mentioning details, since it pertains to diplomatic exchanges, but there is already an agreed recognition over the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait between Japan and the United States, which was reaffirmed on this occasion," Mr Suga said.

In another swipe at China, Mr Biden said the US and Japan will invest together in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, genomics and semiconductor supply chains.

"Japan and the United States are both deeply invested in innovation and looking to the future," Mr Biden said. "That includes making sure we invest in and protect technologies that will maintain and sharpen our competitive edge."

TAIWAN CONCERNS

Mr Suga's public comments on Taiwan may have fallen short of what some US officials had hoped to hear from the Japanese leader, who inherited a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with economic ties when he took over as premier in September. His comments went little further than a statement in March after a meeting of senior US and Japanese officials.

A senior US official said earlier that the summit had been expected to produce a formal statement on Taiwan. After the talks, it was unclear whether this would happen. Any such joint statement would be the first on Taiwan - China's most sensitive territorial issue - by US and Japanese leaders since 1969.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China has expressed solemn concern about "collusion" between Japan and the United States, and the countries should take China's concerns seriously.

Speaking later to a Washington think tank, Mr Suga said Japan would say what is needed to be said to China and speak up on human rights, but also stressed the need to establish a stable, constructive relationship with Beijing.

At the White House news conference, Mr Suga said he told Mr Biden that he was committed to moving forward with the summer Olympic Games in Japan and that Mr Biden offered his support. Japan is grappling with rising coronavirus infections with fewer than 100 days until the planned start.

"I told the president about my determination to realise the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games this summer as a symbol of global unity," Mr Suga said.

As they sat down for talks, Mr Biden, Mr Suga and their two delegations all wore masks, in keeping with protocols to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Biden appeared determined to get off on the right foot with Mr Suga after four years in which Trump sometimes chastised allies in Asia and elsewhere over what he saw as insufficient defense spending or funding for US troop presence and questioned the value of bedrock military alliances.

With the Mr Suga meeting and another planned summit with South Korea in May, Mr Biden hopes to energise joint efforts with Australia, India and Japan in a grouping known as the Quad, as well as with South Korea, to counter China and longtime US foe North Korea.

The US, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Some Japanese lawmakers have said Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, even as Japanese executives worry about a Chinese backlash.

China denies any human rights violations, but Washington says Beijing is perpetrating genocide in Xinjiang.

REUTERS

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