Biden to use meeting with Japan’s prime minister to send ‘clear signal’ to China

In what will be Biden’s first in-person meeting with a foreign leader at the White House, the two leaders are expected to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review, regional security issues, the climate crisis, relations with China and technology policy, according to a senior administration official. 
But it is China that is expected to be one of the biggest focuses. The leaders are expected to speak in-depth about China, the official said, as the US and Japan “seek to play a steady, careful role to underscore our mutual commitment to maintenance of peace and stability, and to take steps to calm tensions and to discourage provocations.” 

“We’re trying to send a clear signal that some of the steps that China is taking,” including its recent actions in Taiwan’s air defense zone, are “antithetical to the mission of maintaining peace and stability,” the official said.

China sent 25 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday, which was the largest breach of that space since the island began regularly reporting such activity in September, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

“But at the same time, we also recognize the deep economic and commercial ties between Japan and China and Prime Minister Suga wants to walk a careful course and we respect that,” the official continued.

In the morning, Suga will have some private meetings and will have an engagement with Vice President Kamala Harris at her Naval Observatory residence, according to the official. 

Suga will then go to the White House and there will be a long introductory session between Biden and Suga in which they will “have a chance to really get to know one another,” the official said. The two leaders will then be joined by senior officials for a larger meeting and then members of Biden’s Cabinet. 

“The most important element of this visit is for leaders to understand one another, to build trust and confidence,” the official said, “and really to take what is our most important alliance to the next level so that we’re not only cooperating on security and foreign policy issues but increasingly on technology and economic issues and across the board.”

The two leaders will also focus on North Korea, as the US is nearing the conclusion of its North Korea policy review, the official said.

While Japan has been consulted throughout the process, the two leaders on Thursday will have an opportunity to “put the finishing touches on what is an important initiative for the United States,” the official said.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan recently met with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Annapolis, Maryland, in order to discuss the administration’s North Korea policy review. The review included extensive consultations with members of the Trump administration about diplomatic engagements with North Korea. 

“The United States can only be effective in Asia when the US-Japan relationship is strong and Japan is steady and stable,” the official said. 

A part of that relationship is the Japanese relationship with South Korea, which has deteriorated in recent years. It is “concerning” to the Biden administration, the official said, “even to the point of being painful for us, to see relations between Japan and South Korea fall to the current level” and will be a part of their discussion.

“The political tensions are such that we believe it actually impedes all of our abilities to be effective in Northeast Asia and I think the President will want to discuss this in some detail with Prime Minister Suga,” the official said. 

Relations between Japan and South Korea have been at a historic low point amid ongoing disputes over the sensitive historical issues, namely Japan forcing Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II. US officials have said improving relations is central to an Asia policy built around multilateralism.

“We fully understand that this is a bilateral matter between South Korea and Japan,” the official said, “but as a friend of both we have an interest in seeing relations improve between these two great democracies.”

The meeting between the two leaders will also result in a series of announcements on technology and climate change.

The Biden administration will announce on Thursday “a Japanese commitment to an initiative to work on 5G and next steps beyond 5G — $2 billion working in partnership with the United States,” the official said. Suga also intends to discuss with Biden specific steps on climate “that we believe will put Japan at the lead in terms of an ambitious set of goals for 2030,” according to the official. 

The two leaders are also likely to discuss when the next meeting between Biden, Suga, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia — a group informally known as the “Quad” — will take place, the official said. The group met virtually last month and agreed they would meet in-person before the end of the year, Sullivan said at the time.  

CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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