Biden, Japan’s PM focus on China, North Korea in first bilateral meeting
President Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday for his first in-person bilateral meeting since becoming president, with the two leaders outlining their strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific in the face of growing challenges from China and North Korea.
“Japan and the United States are two strong democracies in the region, and we’re committed to advancing and defending our shared values, including human rights and the rule of law,” Biden said in prepared remarks at a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
“We’re going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century, we can deliver for our people in the face of a rapidly changing world,” he added.
Both leaders referenced the need to confront challenges in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, a nod to an increasingly aggressive Beijing.
Biden did not mention Taiwan by name amid concerns from international watchdogs that China may take military action against the island. China has also come under scrutiny for its human rights record, including its involvement in the military coup in Myanmar and its treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Suga emphasized the importance of the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan and South Korea to manage North Korea, which has engaged in new missile launches in recent weeks and has not responded to outreach from the Biden administration.
And Biden referenced his commitment to the “Quad,” which consists of the leaders of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, to address vaccine distribution and other regional issues.
The two leaders also discussed the Summer Olympics, which are scheduled for later this year in Tokyo. Biden acknowledged the importance of the games to Japan, but neither leader weighed in on whether the Olympics should go forward amid the pandemic.
Biden said the two agreed to form a new partnership that will be used to address shared challenges, foremost the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the U.S., Japan and other countries throughout the world. Biden also said the two nations would partner on health security and work to achieve reform at the World Health Organization (WHO).
The visit represented Biden’s first in-person bilateral meeting since he was inaugurated in January. While Biden has held virtual meetings with world leaders, including bilateral engagements with the Canadian prime minister and Mexican president, during the coronavirus pandemic, he had yet to host foreign officials at the White House until Friday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted at a press briefing that the officials would not share a meal, which would be normal tradition, and that officials would distance from one another during their meetings in order to ensure safety during the ongoing pandemic.
“It does not look exactly like the typical bilateral meetings that you have attended in the past and we look forward to returning to normal on many fronts but certainly this one as well,” Psaki said.
In addition to Suga’s meetings with Biden and other officials, he also met one-on-one with Vice President Harris earlier in the day.
The White House sent a signal to the meeting of the importance of the U.S. relationship with Japan, which will also attend Biden’s virtual climate change summit next week. Biden is also expected to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in May.
“There is no substitution for face-to-face discussions,” Biden said. “Our commitment to meet in person is indicative of the importance, the value we both place on this relationship between Japan and the United States, this partnership.”
“The United States is Japan’s best friend,” Suga said in prepared remarks. “Japan and the U.S. are allies that share universal values such as freedom, democracy and human rights. Our alliance has served its role as the foundation of peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the world.”
During the joint press conference, Biden was asked about whether he would reprioritize action on guns after yet another mass shooting in Indianapolis, just a few weeks after shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo.
Biden reiterated that he feels the issue of gun violence is a “national embarrassment” and beseeched Congress to enact a ban on high-capacity weapons.
“Who in God’s name needs a weapon that can hold 100 rounds or 40 rounds or 20 rounds?” Biden said, growing increasingly animated. “It’s just wrong. And I’m not going to give up until it’s done.”