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Biden, Japan Leader Meet to Boost Ties 04/16 06:08

   President Joe Biden is welcoming Japan's prime minister to the White House 
on Friday in his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader, a choice 
that reflects Biden's emphasis on strengthening alliances to deal with a more 
assertive China and other global challenges.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is welcoming Japan's prime minister 
to the White House on Friday in his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign 
leader, a choice that reflects Biden's emphasis on strengthening alliances to 
deal with a more assertive China and other global challenges.

   Biden and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also look to counter messaging from 
Chinese President Xi Jinping that America and democracies in general are on the 
decline, after the political turmoil and international withdrawal that marked 
Donald Trump's presidency.

   The Biden administration calls managing U.S. policies toward the 
Indo-Pacific, where China under Xi is flexing growing economic and military 
power, the primary challenge for the United States. That helped guide Biden's 
decision, announced this week, to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and free 
the administration to focus more on East Asia.

   For Biden and Suga, "our approach to China and our shared coordination and 
cooperation on that front will be part of the discussion," press secretary Jen 
Psaki said Thursday. The two will discuss other regional security issues, 
including North Korea's nuclear program.

   Suga, a farmer's son who rose to Japan's highest political office after an 
early stint as a worker in a cardboard factory, succeeded boss Shinzo Abe last 
September, after long serving as his chief Cabinet secretary.

   Suga expressed eagerness to meet with Biden early on despite global COVID-19 
lockdowns. He looks to showcase security commitments with the United States, 
Japan's only treaty ally.

   Heading to Washington, Suga told reporters he aimed to build "a relationship 
of trust" with Biden.

   The months-old Biden administration, for its part, looks to Suga to keep 
going on alliance-strengthening moves by both countries.

   The two governments have been working to strengthen technology supply chains 
independent of China during a shortage of semiconductors that's worrying 
businesses around the world. Japan is expected to announce an investment in 5G 
cellular networks, boosting alternatives to China's network, as part of that 
supply chain cooperation.

   Both countries are expected in coming days to make deeper commitments to 
cutting climate-wrecking fossil fuel emissions, in line with Biden's climate 
summit with 40 world leaders next week.

   The Biden administration may also have tougher requests of Japan, including 
pressing Suga for a rare public statement of support from a Japanese leader for 
Taiwan. China, which claims the self-governed island of Taiwan as its 
territory, tested U.S. and Taiwanese resolve weeks into the Biden 
administration by sending fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan.

   Japan long has moved cautiously on steps that might worsen relations with 
China, though Suga has been more outspoken. His administration pushed its 
comfort zone in a statement stressing "peace and stability" on the Taiwan 
Strait. That came during a visit last month by Secretary of State Tony Blinken 
and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, which was the Biden administration's 
highest-level face-to-face meeting at the time.

   World leaders worry about Taiwan as a trigger for conflict between China and 
the United States.

   Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned his Japanese counterpart in a call 
ahead of Suga's visit to see to it that China-Japan relations "do not get 
involved in the so-called confrontation between major countries," according to 
a Chinese government readout.

   Japan's backing of the U.S. presence in the Pacific is growing as the 
nations promote a "free and open Indo-Pacific" vision of the democracies to 
counter China.

   But Japan's economy is intertwined with China's. That means even "with 
security concerns on the rise, Japan would have to take a two-pronged approach 
to balance competition and cooperation," said Akio Takahara, a professor and 
China expert at the University of Tokyo.

   Japan considers China's growing military activity as well as its broad 
territorial claims to be a security threat. Japan is itself locked in a dispute 
with China over Beijing's claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, 
called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.

   Elsewhere, Tokyo has watched with concern as China has built military 
installations on disputed territory it claims in the South China Sea.

   U.S. ships regularly conduct so-called freedom of navigation operations, 
sailing into international waters that China claims as its own.

   President Barack Obama was seen as cajoling China, in hopes of encouraging 
reforms. After initially praising Xi, Trump later took on China head-on and 
solo, with tariffs and insults, while building a golf-buddy relationship with 
Suga's predecessor, Abe. Biden has taken a different approach, reaching out to 
allies to try to form united fronts.

   Suga and Biden "aim to show to the world that democracies can provide to the 
world an example," said Kenju Murakami, Japan's deputy consul-general in New 
York.

   China also has taken note of the Biden administration's support for reviving 
a loose four-country coalition with Japan, India and Australia, known as the 
Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad. Biden and Suga on Friday are expected 
to announce steps through the Quad framework to help India produce COVID-19 
vaccines.

   Formed initially to coordinate relief efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean 
tsunami, the Quad had faded away for a time in part over concerns that its 
existence would provoke China, by suggesting the four countries were ganging up 
against it, noted Tanvi Madan, an expert on India and its relations in the 
Indo-Pacific at the Brookings Institution.

   But "lately, all the things we worried about that China would do if they 
were provoked, they're already doing anyway," Madan said.

 
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