President Joe Biden welcomed Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House for conversations centred on a growing concern for both leaders: what to do about China.
Suga said he and Biden agreed to pursue collaboration on climate change, Covid-19 and the global shortage of semiconductors. But China’s increasingly assertive role in the region loomed large in the talks, Biden’s first in-person meeting at the White House with a foreign leader since taking office.
“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,” Biden said at joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden. Suga said the leaders pledged “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. But the two didn’t announce any major new agreements on China, and Japan must strike a balance between deterring China while keeping Beijing, its largest trading partner, from lashing out. Asked by a reporter, Suga said he wouldn’t provide details of his “diplomatic exchanges” with Biden over the Taiwan Strait.
But in a joint statement issued by the White House hours after their meeting, the two leaders said they “shared their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including the use of economic and other forms of coercion.”
Biden and Suga called in their statement for the easing of tensions over the Taiwan Strait, where China has escalated military activity in recent months, putting pressure on the government in Taipei. The two leaders also cited their concerns over Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region of China, two areas where the US and its allies have accused Beijing of human-rights abuses.
“Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.”
In response, the Chinese Embassy in the US expressed “firm opposition” to the statement, saying the comments “have gone far beyond the scope of normal development of bilateral relations,” and would harm peace and stability in Asia-Pacific.
“It cannot be more ironic that such attempts of stoking division and building blocs against other countries is put under the banner of ‘free and open,’” a spokesperson of the embassy said. The spokesperson also questioned the US support of Japan’s decision to dump radioactive wastewater from Fukushima into the ocean. “Do the US and Japan want to forge a nuclear contaminated Indo-Pacific?” On other topics, Biden expressed in the statement his support for Japan hosting the Tokyo Olympics, which are set to begin in July, despite the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Biden also said the two leaders agreed to collaborate on technology, including the supply shortage on semiconductors that has idled some US auto manufacturing and created shortages of some consumer products.
“We’re going to work together across a range of fields,” Biden told reporters. “From promoting secure and reliable 5G networks to increasing our cooperation on supply chains for critical sectors like semiconductors, to driving joint research in areas like AI, genomics, quantum computing and much more.”