Orlando Sentinel

Japan’s Suga urges strong bond in visit with Biden

Reaffirmat­ion of alliance comes amid tension with China

- By Ellen Knickmeyer, Mari Yamaguchi and Aamer Madhani

WASHINGTON — Calling democracy the foundation for global prosperity, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday in a bid to underscore the two countries’ alliance as a counter to an autocratic and increasing­ly assertive China.

The visit was Biden’s first face-to-face talks with a foreign leader as president.

Suga and Biden, who wore masks for their meeting in the state dining room in a visit modified by White House precaution­s against the coronaviru­s, are seeking to challenge messaging from Chinese President Xi Jinping that America and democracie­s in general are on the decline, after the political turmoil and internatio­nal withdrawal that marked Donald Trump’s presidency.

Suga said democracy, human rights and other shared values were “the very foundation of prosperity of the region and the globe.” It was one of many comments seen as a reference to China, which is increasing­ly flexing its economic and military strength internatio­nally. Suga, who is seeking to showcase Japan’s security commitment­s with the United States, Japan’s only treaty ally, told reporters before his talks with Biden that the trip was meant to “reaffirm the new and tight bond between us” as the U.S. and Japan deal with challenges in the region.

The Biden administra­tion calls managing U.S. policies toward China and the Indo-Pacific the primary challenge for the United States. That helped guide Biden’s decision, announced this week, to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanista­n and free the administra­tion to focus more on East Asia.

For Biden and Suga, “our approach to China and our shared coordinati­on and cooperatio­n on that front will be part of the discussion,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. The two were expected to discuss other regional security issues, including North Korea’s nuclear program.

Suga, a farmer’s son who rose to Japan’s highest political office after an early stint as a worker in a cardboard factory, succeeded Shinzo Abe last September, after long serving as his chief Cabinet secretary.

Earlier Friday, Suga placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and visited with Vice President Kamala Harris.

The months-old Biden administra­tion looks to Suga to keep going on alliance-strengthen­ing moves by both countries.

The two government­s have been working to strengthen technology supply chains independen­t of China during a worldwide shortage of semiconduc­tors. Japan is expected to announce an investment in 5G cellular networks, boosting alternativ­es to China’s network, as part of that supply chain cooperatio­n.

Both countries are expected in coming days to make deeper commitment­s to cutting fossil fuel emissions, in line with Biden’s climate summit with 40 world leaders next week.

The Biden administra­tion may also have tougher requests of Japan, including pressing Suga for a rare public statement of support from a Japanese leader for Taiwan. China, which claims the self-governed island of Taiwan as its territory, tested U.S. and Taiwanese resolve weeks into the Biden administra­tion by sending fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan.

Japan long has moved cautiously on steps that might worsen relations with China, though Suga has been more outspoken. His administra­tion pushed its comfort zone in March with a statement stressing “peace and stability” on the Taiwan Strait.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned his Japanese counterpar­t in a call ahead of Suga’s visit to see to it that China-Japan relations “do not get involved in the so-called confrontat­ion between major countries,” according to a Chinese government readout.

Japan’s economy is intertwine­d with China’s. That means even “with security concerns on the rise, Japan would have to take a two-pronged approach to balance competitio­n and cooperatio­n,” said Akio Takahara, a professor and China expert at the University of Tokyo.

Japan considers China’s growing military activity as well as its broad territoria­l claims to be a security threat. Japan is itself locked in a dispute with China over Beijing’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.

Elsewhere, Tokyo has watched with concern as China has built military installati­ons on disputed territory it claims in the South China Sea.

U.S. ships regularly conduct so-called freedom of navigation operations, sailing into internatio­nal waters that China claims.

President Barack Obama was seen as cajoling China, in hopes of encouragin­g reforms. After initially praising Xi, Trump later took on China head-on and solo, with tariffs and insults, while building a golf-buddy relationsh­ip with Suga’s predecesso­r, Abe.

Biden has taken a different approach, reaching out to allies to try to form united fronts.

 ?? DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Hosting a foreign leader for the first time as president, Joe Biden sits opposite Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan on Friday at the White House.
DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES Hosting a foreign leader for the first time as president, Joe Biden sits opposite Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan on Friday at the White House.

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