US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga showed the alliance between their two countries, as well as their shared determination to deal with China, when they met at the White House on Friday for the first expensive talks. to face of Biden with a foreigner. leader as president.
Suga and Biden, who wore masks to their meeting on a visit modified by coronavirus precautions, sought to challenge Chinese President Xi Jinping’s message that the United States and democracies in general are in decline following political upheaval and international withdrawal. that marked Donald. Trump presidency.
At a press conference in the Rose Garden after their meeting, Biden emphasized the United States’ commitments to defending Japan, saying that the alliance – the United States is Japan’s only ally in a treaty – would demonstrate that democracies can still compromise and win and deliver for our people. “
Managing the alliance with the United States is one of the most difficult tasks for any leader of Japan, whose economy depends heavily on China and whose security depends on the United States. Friday’s talks included an unusually frank speech by a Japanese leader against of any efforts by China to dominate the country. Indo-Pacific region by “force or coercion”.
Suga also called for peace and stability in Taiwan and urged China, whose disputed claim over Taiwan is a potential flash point in the region and with the United States, to peacefully resolve the dispute. China under Xi has been increasingly deploying its military to assert its extensive territorial claims, helping to push the United States, Japan and some other Indo-Pacific nations to strengthen their alliance.
Gently worded as that part of the two leaders’ statement, it marked the first time a Japanese prime minister has spoken in a statement with the United States on Taiwan since the 1969 talks between Richard Nixon and Eisaku Sato.
Suga told Japanese reporters after his visit to the White House that the two leaders and their aides had spent much of their meetings, held around a table in the White House state dining room, sharing stories from their lives and careers. . It got them so engrossed “that we ended up not even touching our hamburger steak prepared for us,” Suga said.
“I think we were able to establish a good relationship of trust,” he added.
The Biden administration sees the management of US policies toward China and the Indo-Pacific as the main challenge for the United States. That helped guide Biden’s decision, announced this week, to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and free the administration to focus more on East Asia.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had warned his Japanese counterpart in a call before Suga’s visit to ensure that China-Japan relations “do not get involved in the so-called confrontation between the major countries.”
Suga, the son of a farmer who rose to Japan’s highest political office after an initial stint as a worker in a cardboard factory, succeeded Shinzo Abe as prime minister last September after having been its chief cabinet secretary for long. weather.
Suga expressed his excitement about meeting Biden early on despite the global COVID-19 lockdowns.
The pandemic changed the normal routine of a visit from a foreign leader, so Biden did not receive Suga for any formal meals. Early Friday, Suga laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and visited Vice President Kamala Harris. An honor guard greeted his arrival at the White House.
Speaking to reporters with Biden after their meetings, Suga also spoke out against an increase in attacks on Asians in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic, and he and Biden vowed to fight such crimes.
Biden addressed Suga at one point during his press conference to point out Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama’s recent victory in the Masters Tournament. The 29-year-old is the first Japanese player to win at Augusta National.
“A Japanese boy is coming, and guess what? He won the Masters, ”Biden said.
Their joint statement also expressed concern for the human rights of Hong Kong residents and China’s Muslim ethnic minority, marking another step in which Japan is agreeing to a push from the United States for a public rebuke of China. However, both countries stated that they planned to work with China “in areas of common interest.”
Japan has long moved cautiously in steps that could worsen relations with China, although Suga has been more outspoken. His administration pushed his comfort zone in a statement emphasizing “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. That came during a visit last month by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, which was the highest-level face-to-face meeting of the Biden administration at the time.
China tested the resolve of the United States and Taiwan weeks after the Biden administration by sending fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan.
Japan views China’s growing military activity and its extensive territorial claims as security threats. Japan is locked in a dispute with China over Beijing’s claim on the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.
Elsewhere, Tokyo has watched with concern as China has built military installations in disputed territory it claims in the South China Sea.
US ships regularly conduct so-called freedom of navigation operations, sailing in international waters that China claims to be its own.
Biden, as president, has taken a different approach to China’s growing assertiveness and other global challenges, reaching out to allies as a first step.
President Barack Obama was seen as cajoling China in hopes of encouraging reforms. After initially praising Xi, Trump faced China head-on and on his own, with tariffs and insults, while building a golf buddy relationship with Suga’s predecessor Abe.
The Biden-Suga meeting also saw new announcements about a number of alliance-building movements.
The governments of the United States and Japan have been working to strengthen China’s independent technology supply chains during a semiconductor shortage that worries companies around the world. And both countries are expected to make deeper commitments in the coming days to cut climate-destroying fossil fuel emissions, in line with Biden’s climate summit with 40 world leaders next week.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism