WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday (April 16) became the first foreign leader to be hosted at the White House since President Joe Biden took office, underscoring Tokyo’s central role in US efforts to counter China’s growing assertiveness.

The one-day summit offers the Democratic president a chance to work further on his pledge to revitalise US alliances that frayed under his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

The meeting is expected to yield steps diversifying supply chains seen as over-reliant on China and a US$2 billion (S$2.6 billion) commitment from Japan to work with the United States on alternatives to the 5G network of Chinese firm Huawei, a senior US official said.

Biden and Suga also plan to discuss human rights issues related to China, including the situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the official said.

The summit, Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader, is expected to produce a formal statement on Taiwan, a Chinese-claimed, self-ruled island under increasing military pressure from Beijing, said the official, who did not want to be identified. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue.

It would be the first joint statement on Taiwan by US and Japanese leaders since 1969. However, it appears likely to fall short of what Washington has been hoping from Suga, who inherited a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with economic ties when he took over as premier last September.

In a statement after a March meeting of US-Japan officials, the two sides “underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and shared “serious concerns” about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

READ  Coronavirus: Many US lawmakers follow new face covering guidance, but some habits are hard to break

The US official said that both countries, while not wanting to raise tensions or provoke China, were trying to send a clear signal that Beijing’s dispatch of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone was incompatible with maintaining peace and stability.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said this week it had not been decided whether there would be a joint statement and two Japanese ruling party lawmakers familiar with the discussions said officials have been divided over whether Suga should endorse a strong statement on Taiwan.

The US official said Washington would not “insist on Japan somehow signing on to every dimension of our approach” and added: “We also recognise the deep economic and commercial ties between Japan and China and Prime Minister Suga wants to walk a careful course, and we respect that.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Friday that China has expressed solemn concern about what he called “collusion” between Japan and the United States, and the countries should take China’s concerns seriously.

Suga meets Harris

Suga met first with Vice-President Kamala Harris and was then due to sit down with Biden in the Oval Office before holding a joint news conference. Earlier, Suga participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Japan highly praises and appreciates that the Biden-Harris administration puts high importance on cooperating with its allies and partners,” Suga told reporters as he began talks with Harris.

“There is no other time than today when the Japan-US alliance needs to be strong,” he added, citing “a wide range of challenges.”

READ  EU rejects Turkey's 'blackmail', borders to stay closed to migrants: France

Harris said they would discuss “our mutual commitment in the Indo-Pacific.”


US Vice-President Kamala Harris (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speak on a balcony during their meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. PHOTO: AFP

With his in-person summit with Suga, and another planned with South Korea in May, Biden – who took office on Jan 20 – is working to focus on the Indo-Pacific region to deal with China’s rising power, which he sees as the critical foreign policy issue of the era.

He 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 both China and longtime US foe North Korea, and its increasingly threatening nuclear weapons programme.

It requires a delicate balancing act given Japan and South Korea’s economic ties with China and currently frosty relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

Suga said before leaving Japan for Washington he hoped to show US-Japan leadership in creating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and build a relationship of trust with Biden.

The emphasis on Japan’s key status could boost Suga ahead of an election this year, but some politicians are pushing him for a tougher stance towards Beijing as it increases maritime activities in the East and South China Seas and near Taiwan.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have all imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged abuses in Xinjiang and some Japanese lawmakers think Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, even as Japanese executives worry about a Chinese backlash.





READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here