Washington – U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday agreed to further their cooperation across regional security, technology and other areas, committing to an alliance that will face up to the challenges posed by China.
In their first in-person meeting during the Biden presidency, the two also affirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Suga said at a news conference with Biden, a reference that is sure to upset Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its most sensitive territorial issue.
Their view was also mentioned in a joint statement issued after the summit, in what can be seen as a rare public expression of leader-level concern on the situation regarding Taiwan, with the last such reference dating back to 1969.
Suga is the first foreign leader invited to the White House for talks with Biden since he took office in January as the United States seeks to enlist allies and like-minded countries to counter China’s heightened economic and military assertiveness.
“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 the joint news conference.
Both Biden and Suga highlighted how the bilateral alliance is rooted in shared values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, in an apparent contrast with what Washington labels as authoritarian states such as China.
Regional security issues were high on the agenda amid concerns over an escalation of China’s maritime assertiveness in the East and South China seas and its stepping up of military pressure on Taiwan, as well as North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.
The United States restated its “unwavering” support for Japan’s defense under their security treaty, including through nuclear capabilities, the joint statement said, while also stipulating the U.S. commitment to defending the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by Beijing.
“Together, we oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands,” the two leaders said in the statement.
On Taiwan, the two said they “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.”
The democratic island, which China regards as a renegade province awaiting reunification by force if necessary, is deemed a potential military flashpoint that could draw the United States into conflict with China due to its security assurances to Taipei.
The last time Taiwan was mentioned in a U.S.-Japan leaders’ statement was 1969, before Tokyo and Washington recognized Beijing as the sole legal government of China.
As the Biden administration has put human rights promotion at the center of its foreign policy, the two leaders discussed China’s alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region and the crackdown on Hong Kong.
Through its embassy in the U.S., China expressed “strong concern and firm opposition” to the joint statement.
They also firmly condemned the violence committed by the Myanmar military and police against civilians following the Feb. 1 coup and called for a swift return to democracy.
The two leaders also agreed to cooperate toward pursuing North Korea’s complete denuclearization, following Pyongyang’s resumption of ballistic missile testing last month after a yearlong hiatus.
Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the immediate resolution of the issue of Pyongyang’s past abduction of Japanese nationals.
While the relationship between Japan and South Korea has been increasingly fraught over wartime compensation issues, Suga and Biden said in their joint statement that they concurred that trilateral cooperation with Seoul is “essential to our shared security and prosperity.”
On the economic front, the two countries plan to step up cooperation to create a secure supply chain for semiconductors in a bid to reduce reliance on China for such items vital to the production of high-tech goods.
They also committed a combined $4.5 billion (about ¥490 trillion) in efforts to strengthen competitiveness in the digital field, including 5G and next generation mobile networks, an area where competition is intensifying between the United States and China.
Ahead of a virtual climate summit Biden will host next week, Japan and the United States agreed to reach a partnership deal to further their cooperation.
Biden has vowed to put the United States in a position to lead the world in tackling climate change. Since taking office, Biden has reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement and organized the climate summit to galvanize efforts by major economies to combat global warming.
Japan and the United States already share the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the focus is on coming up with an ambitious emissions-reduction target for 2030.
During the summit, Suga said he conveyed Japan’s resolve to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, and he received Biden’s support.
Japan has continued to face questions at home and abroad about pushing ahead with the global sporting event in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The topics of discussion between Suga and Biden also included concerns over the rise in discrimination and violence against Asian Americans across the United States.
“Discrimination by race cannot be permitted in any societies. We agreed on this regard,” Suga said.
Upon welcoming Suga, the White House said a number of measures have been taken to ensure the health and safety of summit participants, including a decision for the two sides not to have a formal meal together.
Earlier in the day, Suga met with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and agreed the two countries will arrange for her to visit Japan at an appropriate date.
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