• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday he plans to visit Washington in the first half of April for talks with President Joe Biden, a mission he said is intended to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and affirm close coordination over the coronavirus pandemic and an increasingly assertive China.

If all goes as planned, Suga will become the first foreign leader to meet with Biden in person since the Democrat captured the White House in January.

“I would like to make full use of this opportunity to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance,” he said at a meeting of the government and the ruling coalition.

Suga added he hopes to assure close cooperation with Biden over various issues, including the pandemic, global warming, issues surrounding China, and North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference Japan hopes to “confirm close cooperation toward realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific” through the planned Suga-Biden meeting.

It would be Suga’s second trip overseas since taking office last September following a visit to Vietnam and Indonesia in October.

The planned U.S. trip comes as China becomes increasingly assertive in the Indo-Pacific region, including around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, where Beijing has militarized areas in which it has overlapping claims with smaller neighbors.

To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the size of Suga’s entourage will be kept to a minimum, and all members, expected to be about 80 to 90 people, will undergo vaccination before entering the United States, according to Kato, the top government spokesman.

The Japanese government has been eager to arrange a meeting between the two leaders as soon as possible. They agreed on holding one at an early date in telephone talks in January.

Biden picked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as his counterpart for what the White House called his “first bilateral meeting” since taking office, but he used a virtual format for those talks.

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