The Biden administration is a major challenge for the United States in managing U.S. policies toward the Indo-Pacific Ocean, where China under Xi is developing increasing economic and military power. That helped Biden’s decision, announced this week, to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and free the administration to focus more on East Asia.
For Biden and Suga, “our approach to China and our joint coordination and cooperation in that area will be part of the discussion,” press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday. The two will discuss other regional security issues, including North Korea’s nuclear program.
Suga, the farmer’s son who rose to Japan’s top political post after an early stay at a cardboard factory, succeeded boss Shinzo Abe in September last year, after long as chief secretary of government.
Suga expressed a desire to meet Biden early, despite the global blockades of COVID-19. It seems to show security commitments with the United States, Japan’s only ally.
Heading for Washington, Suga told reporters he wanted to build a “relationship of trust” with Biden.
The months-long Biden administration, for its part, expects Suga to continue strengthening the alliance by both states.
The two governments are working to strengthen technology supply chains independent of China during a semiconductor shortage that worries companies around the world. Japan is expected to announce investment in 5G mobile networks, strengthening alternatives to the Chinese network, as part of that supply chain cooperation.
Both countries are expected to make a deeper commitment in the coming days to reduce climate-destroying fossil fuel emissions, in line with Biden’s climate summit with 40 world leaders next week.
The Biden administration may also have tougher demands from Japan, including pressure on Sugu for a rare public statement of support for the Japanese leader in Taiwan. China, which claims the self-governing island of Taiwan as its territory, tested the United States and Taiwanese to decide for a week in the Biden administration by sending fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan.
Japan has long cautiously taken steps that could worsen relations with China, although Suga has been more open. His administration pushed through its comfort zone in a statement emphasizing “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. This came during a visit last month by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, which at the time was a face-to-face meeting of the Biden administration.
World leaders worry about Taiwan as a trigger for the conflict between China and the United States.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned his Japanese counterpart in a call ahead of Suga’s visit to make sure Sino-Japanese relations “do not interfere in the so-called confrontation between major countries,” the Chinese government report said.
Japan’s support for the U.S. presence in the Pacific is growing as nations promote a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision of democracies in the fight against China.
But the Japanese economy is intertwined with the Chinese. This means that even “with growing security concerns, Japan would have to take a two-pronged approach to balancing competition and cooperation,” said Akio Takahara, a professor and Chinese expert at the University of Tokyo.
Japan sees China’s growing military activity, as well as broad territorial claims, as a security threat. Japan itself is embroiled in a dispute with China over Beijing’s claims to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.
By the way, Tokyo watched with concern as China built military installations on the disputed territory, which it claims is in the South China Sea.
U.S. ships regularly conduct so-called freedom of navigation operations, entering international waters that China claims to be its own.
President Barack Obama has been seen flattering China in hopes of encouraging reforms. After initially praising Xi, Trump later accepted China frontally and solo, with tariffs and insults, while building a golf friend relationship with Suga’s predecessor Abe. Biden took a different approach, urging the Allies to try to form united fronts.
Suga and Biden “aim to show the world that democracies can set an example to the world,” said Kenyu Murakami, Japan’s deputy consul general in New York.
China also took note of the Biden administration’s support for reviving a loose coalition of four countries with Japan, India and Australia, known as the Quadruple Security Dialogue or Quad. Biden and Suga are expected to announce steps through the Quad framework on Friday to help India produce COVID-19 vaccines.
Initially formed to coordinate post-tsunami relief efforts in the Indian Ocean in 2004, Quad disappeared for a time due in part to concerns that its existence would provoke China, suggesting that four countries were coming together against it, Tanvi Madan, an expert India and its relations in the Indo-Pacific Ocean at the Brookings Institution.
But “lately, all the things we’ve been worried about that China will do if provoked, they’re already doing anyway,” Madan said.
Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City and Yamaguchi from Tokyo.
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