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U.S. diplomacy in Asia will be among the top foreign policy projects of President-elect Joe Biden’s team when they settle into the White House on Jan. 20, with the former vice president deputizing his incoming secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and national security adviser pick, Jake Sullivan, to right the ship in the region, writes Jesse Johnson.

One of the top priorities, especially for veteran diplomat Blinken, will be helping repair Japan-South Korea ties, which have plummeted to their lowest point in decades. While experts say the U.S. will be hard-pressed to find a way to bring its two allies back together, could trade be one possible lever?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that the country will consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that the country will consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact that Japan has championed — the first time he has raised the possibility of Seoul joining the pact, Kyodo reports.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) chats with Japanese Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki (center), and South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister, Lim Sung-nam, before a meeting in Seoul in April 2016. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) chats with Japanese Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki (center), and South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Lim Sung-nam, before a meeting in Seoul in April 2016. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

Meanwhile, the Japanese government plans to name its ambassador to South Korea, Koji Tomita, as its new U.S. envoy, in the hope that the veteran diplomat will use his experience and personal connections to build ties with the Biden administration.

Tomita — the son-in-law of the renowned late novelist Yukio Mishima — had served as minister at the Japanese Embassy in Washington and headed the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau during the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama in which Biden served as vice president.

Tokyo will be trying to forge a new relationship with Biden amid growing concerns by both over China’s rise. A group of American experts on U.S.-Japan relations said in a report Monday that the two should strengthen their alliance for “competitive coexistence” with Beijing, while also striving to create a “Six Eyes” intelligence-sharing network comprising the two allies, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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