Biden hosts Suga for first White House summit as China leads agenda

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US President Joe Biden on Friday welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as the first foreign leader to visit his White House, underscoring Tokyo’s central role in Washington’s efforts to counter China’s growing assertion.

Biden hosted Suga for a one-day summit that offered the Democratic president a chance to work further on his pledge to revitalize American alliances that have frayed under his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

“Our cooperation is vital… to address the challenges facing our nations and ensure that the future of the region remains free and open,” Biden said as he sat down with Suga. The two countries, he added, have a “great program in front of us”.

With China at the top of the list, the meeting is expected to result in steps to diversify supply chains seen as too dependent on Beijing and a pledge of $ 2 billion from Japan to work with the United States on alternatives to Beijing. Chinese company Huawei’s 5G network, a senior US official said.

Biden and Suga also planned to discuss human rights issues related to China, including the crackdown in Hong Kong and against Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the official said.

The summit, Biden’s first in-person meeting with a foreign leader as president, is expected to produce an official statement on Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by the Chinese under increasing military pressure from Beijing, the official said, who did not want not. to identify.

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White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden would speak of Suga China’s “increasingly coercive action” in Taiwan, which is China’s most sensitive territorial issue.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga chat on the balcony as Harris welcomes Suga to his office in the Eisenhower Executive Office building at the White House in Washington on Friday. | REUTERS

It would be the first joint statement on Taiwan by the American and Japanese leaders since 1969. However, it seems likely that this was not what Washington hoped for from Suga, who inherited a Chinese policy that sought to balance security concerns. with economic ties when he took over as prime minister last September.

In a statement after a meeting of US-Japanese officials in March, the two sides “stressed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and shared “serious concerns” regarding the rights of the male in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The US official said the two countries, while unwilling to increase tensions or provoke China, were trying to send a clear signal that Beijing’s dispatch of fighter jets to Taiwan’s air defense zone was incompatible with the maintenance of peace and stability.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said this week that it had not been decided whether there would be a joint statement and two Japanese ruling party lawmakers familiar with the talks said officials were divided over the whether Suga should endorse a firm statement on Taiwan.

The US official said Washington “would not insist that Japan somehow adhere to every dimension of our approach” and added: “We also recognize Japan’s deep economic and trade ties. and China and Premier Suga want to take a cautious path, and we respect that.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that China expressed solemn concern over what it called “collusion” between Japan and the United States, and that countries should take China’s concerns seriously.

Suga arrived at the West Wing gates in a black sport utility vehicle emblazoned with American and Japanese flags. The alley was lined with a military honor guard carrying the flag.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on Friday.  |  ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY / ELIZABETH FRASER / VIA AFP-JIJI
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on Friday. | ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY / ELIZABETH FRASER / VIA TBEN-JIJI

He earlier met with Vice President Kamala Harris and, following the Oval Office talks with Biden, the two leaders were scheduled to hold a joint press conference. On Friday morning, Suga participated in a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the universal values ​​that unite our alliance,” Suga said during the meeting with Biden. “The importance of these values ​​has reached an unprecedented level.”

As they sat down for talks, Biden, Suga and their two delegations all wore masks, in accordance with protocols to protect against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the Suga meeting and another summit planned with South Korea in May, Biden hopes to boost joint efforts with Australia, India and Japan, in a group known as the Quad, as well as with the South Korea, to counter both China and the longtime enemy of the United States. North Korea.

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This requires a delicate balance given Japan and South Korea’s economic ties to China and the currently frigid relationship between Seoul and Tokyo.

The Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo should also feature in the discussions at the White House. Psaki said the administration understands the cautious considerations taken by Japan when deciding whether or not to continue the games. Japan is grappling with an increase in coronavirus infections within 100 days of the expected start.

The focus on Japan’s key status could boost Suga ahead of this year’s election, but some politicians are pushing him to take a tougher stance on Beijing as it increases maritime activity in the seas. eastern and southern China and near Taiwan.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have all imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged abuses in Xinjiang, and some Japanese lawmakers believe Tokyo should pass its own law allowing it to do the same, even though Japanese leaders are worried about a Chinese reaction. . China denies any human rights violations, but Washington says Beijing is carrying out genocide in Xinjiang.

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