Biden, Japan's Kishida promise to tackle Indo-Pacific problems at White House summit

Japan is often described as the US’s most important Asia ally

By Reuters

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US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stand for national anthems during a state visit at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. — Reuters
US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stand for national anthems during a state visit at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. — Reuters

Published: Wed 10 Apr 2024, 9:38 PM

US President Joe Biden welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the White House on Wednesday, as the two seek to showcase a strong and growing partnership focused on joint defense cooperation to deter an aggressive China.

The summit kicked off with an official arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn, followed by a closed-door meeting, a joint news conference planned for the Rose Garden, a state dinner and a performance by musician Paul Simon.

“I would assert that our alliance has never been stronger in our entire history,” Biden said as the two leaders began their talks in the Oval Office.

Japan, often described as the US’s most important Asia ally and its largest source of foreign direct investment, is expected to take on a stepped-up role after a series of security law changes in the past decade have transformed its pacifist constitution.

Before they met, a red-coated fife-and-drum corps played “Yankee Doodle” and marched before the two leaders during the elaborate arrival ceremony featuring honor guards from each US military branch.

Biden lauded the Japanese leader’s quick “courageous” opposition to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and for improving relations with South Korea. He noted that he and Kishida had strolled across the lawn on Tuesday night to admire three Japanese cherry trees.

“Ours is truly a global partnership. For that, Mr. Prime Minister Kishida, I thank you,” Biden said. “Now our two countries are building a stronger defense partnership and a strong Indo-Pacific than ever before.”

Kishida, speaking after Biden, said the cherry trees that line the Tidal Basin near the White House are a “symbol of the friendship between Japan and the United States.”

“As a global partner, Japan will join hands with our American friends and together we will lead the way in tackling the challenges of the Indo-Pacific and the world,” he said.

Kishida will address the US Congress on Thursday and join Biden and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for a meeting expected to focus on Beijing’s South China Sea incursions.

The US and Japan have hammered out about 70 agreements on defense cooperation, including moves to upgrade the US military command structure in Japan to make it better able to work with Japanese forces in a crisis.

Biden and Kishida are also expected to announce steps to allow more joint development of military and defense equipment.

The two leaders will announce plans for a joint lunar space mission and projects to work together on artificial intelligence research, US officials said.

Japan will now be a “full global partner” with the United States, with influence far beyond its region and into Europe and the Middle East, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Tuesday, summing up the deals.

China is attempting to isolate Japan and the Philippines, the US official said. By meeting the leaders of those two nations this week in Washington, Biden is aiming to “flip the script and isolate China.”

Fitch cut its outlook on China’s sovereign credit rating to negative on Wednesday, citing risks to public finances as the economy faces increasing uncertainty in its shift to new growth models.

On Thursday, Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Marcos, whom he welcomed in Washington just last year, before the pair join Kishida for a trilateral summit.

The visit may give a political boost to Kishida, whose popularity has waned at home. He is being greeted with great fanfare, with Japanese flags on display throughout Washington.

Besides the state dinner, Biden and his wife Jill took Kishida and his wife Yuko to a private dinner at a local restaurant on Tuesday night.

On Thursday, Kishida will become only the second Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of Congress after his assassinated predecessor, Shinzo Abe, gave a speech in 2015.

Overshadowing the visit is a controversy over the planned $15 billion acquisition of American steel maker US Steel by Japan’s Nippon Steel, a deal some say is “on life support” after criticism by Biden and former President Donald Trump, his rival in November’s US election.

Also looming are Japanese concerns that if Trump wins a second term he might seek a deal with China that could destabilise the region.

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