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In their first trip together, top Biden officials from Japan and the United States condemn China.

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In their first trip together, top Biden officials from Japan and the United States condemn China.
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In their first trip together, top Biden officials from Japan and the United States condemn China.

In their first trip together, top Biden officials from Japan and the United States condemn China.

 

Senior ministers from Japan and the United States met in person for the first time since President Joe Biden took office in January to criticize China’s “coercion and violence” in Asia.

Aside from the venomous rhetoric directed at Beijing, the Biden administration’s meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday, as well as a scheduled stop in Seoul the following day, are an attempt by the Biden administration to reassure nervous allies in Asia after sometimes tense relations with the Trump administration.

After holding so-called “two plus two” security talks with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterparts — Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said democracy and human rights are being threatened, and the US will work with its allies to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Blinken reported that the Biden administration is committed to working with US allies in the face of challenges raised by China and its ally North Korea, which is pursuing an illegal nuclear weapons program.

“If China uses intimidation or violence to get its way, we will fight back if necessary,” he said.

The ministers expressed deep concern about Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, “unlawful maritime claims and actions in the South China Sea,” and “unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo” over the Japan-controlled East China Sea islands that China also claims in a joint statement released after the talks. The value of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait was also emphasized in the declaration.

Blinken and Austin have agreed to collaborate with their Japanese counterparts on the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the situation in Myanmar following its military coup, during the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip abroad.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister told the US earlier Tuesday that if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years, it must “refrain from making a stink.” She also chastised the United States and South Korea for conducting military drills.

North Korea’s first statement aimed at the Biden administration came from Kim Yo Jong.

The White House acknowledged the Cabinet secretaries’ trip to the region and stated that the administration’s priority was working with allies on issues such as regional security. “Our goal will still be diplomacy and denuclearization of North Korea,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Biden’s decision to send key ministers to Japan as their first overseas visit, rather than hosting Japanese officials in Washington, meant a lot to Japan, which sees the US-Japan partnership as the core of its diplomatic and security policies.

Blinken said he and Austin were in Japan “to reaffirm our commitment to the alliance and to expand on it,” and that the choice of location was “no mistake.”

He said that the US and its allies are cooperating on climate change, cyber security, and health-care security “in pursuit of our common values.”

Blinken also said that the US and Japan reaffirmed the importance of their three-way relationship with South Korea, despite the fact that the ministers did not publicly address the strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul over wartime compensation issues.

South Korea and Japan have been working to mend ties that deteriorated in 2019 as a result of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to pay reparations for forced labor during WWII. Both countries have imposed trade restrictions as a result of the rulings, and Seoul has threatened to cancel a bilateral military intelligence-sharing deal that was a significant symbol of the three countries’ regional security cooperation.

Both Japan and the United States have changed leaders since then, raising hopes for better ties.

Austin mentioned China’s “destabilizing behavior,” calling it a “pacing problem” for his department. He said that the allies must improve operational capabilities in order to react rapidly to a security threat such as China.

“We know that competing in today’s changing global dynamics requires a spirit of collaboration and coordination, which are hallmarks of our alliance with Japan,” he said.

Kishi claimed that through deepening cooperation and aligning security policies, Japan, which has increasingly operated side by side with the US military, would bolster expanded deterrence and readiness across domains such as space and cybersecurity.

The use of force to resolve foreign conflicts is forbidden by Japan’s constitution, and any effort to increase its military capacity is a sensitive issue in Asia.

Japan is also in a delicate diplomatic situation because, like the rest of the country, its economy is heavily reliant on China.

Tokyo, on the other hand, sees China’s increasing maritime presence in the area as a security challenge. Beijing has constructed artificial islands in the South China Sea and outfitted them with military hardware, claiming nearly all of the sea’s main fisheries and waterways. Japan opposes China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, also known as Diaoyu in China, as well as its increased presence in the disputed region.

China has denied that it is expanding, saying that it is merely protecting its territorial rights.

On Tuesday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said that the US-Japan dialogue “does not target or damage the interests of third parties.”

At a daily briefing, Zhao said, “The United States and Japan should engage in exchanges and cooperation that will help enhance mutual understanding and mutual confidence among regional countries, contribute to solidarity and cooperation, as well as peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Later Tuesday, American officials met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is scheduled to visit Washington in the first half of April to speak with Biden in person for the first time since Biden took office in January.

On Wednesday, Blinken and Austin will travel to South Korea for talks focused on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

On his way back to Washington, Blinken will meet China’s State Councilor Wang Yi and the Communist Party’s foreign affairs leader, Yang Jiechi, in Anchorage, Alaska. Austin will travel from Seoul to New Delhi to meet with Indian officials.

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