Suga, Biden commit to take on China challenges, affirm Taiwan stance

Apr 17, 2021 – 15:51 By Miya Tanaka, KYODO NEWS

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (2nd from R) meets with U.S. President Joe Biden (L) at the White House in Washington on April 16, 2021 (kyodo)

WASHINGTON – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday agreed to further their cooperation across regional security, technology and global problems such as climate change, showcasing the strength of the alliance to counter China’s rise.

A joint statement issued after their first in-person meeting underscored the pressing challenges posed by China’s assertiveness in the region, including over Taiwan, making it the first time in more than half a century that the self-ruled island was explicitly mentioned by Japanese and U.S. leaders in such a document.

“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 a joint press conference with Suga.

With the U.S. administration seeing allies and like-minded partners vital in pushing back against China, Suga became the first foreign leader invited to the White House for talks with Biden since he took office in January.

Both Suga and Biden 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.

The summit took place amid growing 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-controlled 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.

Reflecting the tough security environment, the two countries committed to enhance deterrence and to deepen defense cooperation across all domains, including cyber and space.

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.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (L) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a joint press conference after their talks at the White House in Washington on April 16, 2021.  (Kyodo)

With the Biden administration putting human rights promotion at the center of its foreign policy, the two leaders expressed their “serious concerns” regarding China’s alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region and the crackdown on Hong Kong.

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 abductions 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.