09 April 2024

Biden to meet Japan’s prime minister amid shared concerns about China

09 April 2024

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a much-anticipated visit to Washington on Tuesday that spotlights shared concerns about provocative Chinese military action in the Pacific.

Mr Kishida and his wife will visit the White House on Tuesday evening ahead of Wednesday’s official visit and formal state dinner as President Joe Biden looks to celebrate a decades-long ally he sees as the cornerstone of his Indo-Pacific policy.

Mr Kishida will be the fifth world leader honoured by Mr Biden with a state dinner since he took office in 2021.

Ahead of the White House visit, Mr Kishida laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday and visited the US Chamber of Commerce, meeting with Microsoft’s vice chairman and president Brad Smith.

Mr Biden and Mr Kishida will hold talks and take part in a joint news conference on Wednesday before a state dinner.

Paul Simon, one of Jill Biden’s favorite musicians, will sing at the state dinner.

The first lady chose the singer-songwriter as a special tribute for Japan’s prime minister because he is also an admirer of Simon’s work, the White House said.

The prime minister has also been invited to address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday. He will be just the second Japanese leader to address the body; Shinzo Abe gave a speech to Congress in 2015.

The visit comes after Mr Biden announced last month that he opposes the planned sale of Pittsburgh-based US Steel to Nippon Steel of Japan, exposing a marked rift in the partnership at the very moment the two leaders aim to reinforce it.

Mr Biden argued in announcing his opposition that the US needs to “maintain strong American steel companies powered by American steelworkers”.

Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, Mr Biden’s envoy to Tokyo, sought on Monday to downplay the impact of Mr Biden’s opposition to the US Steel acquisition to the relationship. Mr Emanuel noted that in February the Biden administration approved a plan that would drive billions of dollars in revenue to a US-based subsidiary of the Japanese company Mitsui for crane production in the United States.

“The United States’ relationship with Japan is a lot deeper and stronger and more significant than a single commercial deal,” said Mr Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, in a joint appearance at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies with Japan’s chief envoy to Washington.

“As we would say in Chicago, you got to chill.”

Nippon Steel announced in December that it planned to buy US Steel for 14.1 billion dollars (£11.1 billion) in cash, raising concerns about what the transaction could mean for unionised workers, supply chains and US national security.

Shigeo Yamada, Japan’s ambassador to Washington, declined to comment on whether Mr Kishida would raise the Nippon-US Steel deal with Mr Biden.

Mr Kishida at the US Chamber said that American investments in Japan and vice versa would make the “economies more deeply tied and inseparable”.

Mr Smith, the Microsoft vice chairman, announced that the tech company was investing 2.9 billion dollars (£2.28 billion) in Japan over the next two years to expand its cloud computing and artificial intelligence operations there. Microsoft will be working with the Japanese government to improve its cybersecurity capabilities.

“We see this as a critical investment in every Japanese company that we support and the Japanese government as well,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Biden has sought to place greater foreign policy focus on the Pacific even while grappling with the fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the grinding Israel-Hamas war. Last year, Mr Biden brought together Mr Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, a historic summit between leaders of two countries that have a difficult shared history.

Mr Biden has honoured Mr Yoon with a state visit and picked Mr Kishida’s predecessor, prime minister Yoshihide Suga, as the first face-to-face foreign leader visit of his presidency.

The administration has been pleased by Japan’s strong support for Ukraine. Tokyo has been one of the largest donors to Kyiv since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, and Japan has surged its defence spending amid concern about China’s military assertiveness.

Mr Kishida has warned that the war in Europe could lead to conflict in East Asia, suggesting that a lax attitude to Russia emboldens China.

“The prime minister’s conviction is today’s Ukraine could be tomorrow’s East Asia,” Mr Yamada said.

The Pentagon announced on Monday that the US, UK and Australia were considering including Japan in the Aukus partnership, a grouping launched in 2021 that aims to equip Australia with nuclear-powered and conventionally armed submarines.

Beijing has condemned the Aukus pact, which it says promotes division and could lead to military confrontation in the region. China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday raised objection to Japan’s prospective new role.

The leaders are expected to discuss plans to upgrade the US military command structure in Japan. There are about 54,000 US troops stationed in Japan.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan the leaders announcements on defense will enable “greater co-ordination in the integration of our forces and ensure that they are optimally postured and linked to other like-minded partners”.

Mr Kishida and Mr Biden are also expected to confirm Japan’s participation in Nasa’s Artemis moon programme as well as its contribution of a moon rover developed by Toyota Motor Corp and the inclusion of a Japanese astronaut in the mission.

The rover, which comes at a roughly two billion-dollar cost, would be the most expensive contribution to the mission by a non-US partner to date.

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