WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will host his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader on Friday when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga arrives at the White House for talks that are expected to focus heavily on another Asian powerhouse: China.
The U.S. and Japan are both looking to strengthen the alliance between the two countries as Washington tries to counter economic and military challenges posed by Beijing. The Biden administration sees Japan as an important regional ally as it prepares to confront China over issues such as human rights and unfair trade practices.
“The United States can only be effective in Asia when the U.S.-Japan relationship is strong and Japan is steady and stable,” a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.
Suga will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris at her home Friday morning and then go to the White House for meetings with Biden and members of his Cabinet.
Topics on the agenda are likely to include the coronavirus pandemic, technology policy, regional security, climate change and even this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
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At the center of the discussions will be China and how to manage the peace and stability of regional seas, including the Taiwan Strait. China has been sending warplanes into the area in a show of force intended to pressure Taiwan, a self-governed island that Beijing considers to be part of its territory.
Biden and Suga are also expected to discuss the human rights situations in Hong Kong and China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
Neither country is looking to escalate tensions or provoke China, the senior administration official said, but at the same time, they want to send a clear signal that some of the steps that China is taking run counter to the mission of maintaining peace and stability.
Japan considers China’s growing military activity in the region, as well as its broad territorial claims, to be a security threat. Japan is itself locked in dispute with China over Beijing’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.
Yet Japan finds itself in a delicate position because China remains Japan’s largest trading partner. The Japanese government has condemned China’s repression of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but has resisted imposing sanctions.
“Each of our countries has slightly different perspectives, and I don’t think we will insist on Japan somehow signing on to every dimension of our approach,” the senior administration official said. “At our core, though, we share a strategic purpose, and I think we want to reaffirm that at the summit.”
Suga also is expected to invite Biden to the Tokyo Olympics, which open on July 23 despite concerns over whether the games will be safe, given Japan’s slow COVID vaccination rollout. The games were postponed a year ago because of the pandemic.
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Tourists will not be allowed into Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic Games because of the pandemic.
Asked about the safety and advisability of American athletes participating in the games, the senior administration official said Biden is likely to ask Suga for an update on the status of the games.
“We certainly in no way want to hurt the Japanese efforts,” the official said. “We think the Olympics is a wonderful tradition. But at the same time, right now, it is probably slightly too early to make a call about what to expect.”
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
Contributing: The Associated Press.