TOKYO – US President Joe Biden on Monday backed plans to boost Japan’s defense capabilities as he and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to work closely to counter China’s growing influence in Asia.
Biden, on his first trip to Asia since taking office, is visiting the region amid growing concerns about China’s resilience and access to security and supply chains.
The U.S. president praised Kishidar’s determination to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, the White House said in a statement after their meeting. The two leaders pledged to work closely on China’s “increasingly coercive behavior that violates international law.”
The two are expected to hold a joint press conference.
Separately, the public broadcaster told the NHK that Biden had supported Japan becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The main premise of Biden’s visit, which includes meetings with leaders of Japan, India and Australia in the “quad” group, will be the launch of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a comprehensive plan that provides an economic pillar for US engagement with Asia. .
“The US-Japan alliance has long been the foundation of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and the United States is fully committed to defending Japan,” Biden said at the start of talks with Kishida at the Akasaka Palace in central Tokyo.
Earlier, he had met Emperor Naruhito, speaking briefly at the entrance to the palace before entering. The White House said in a statement that Biden spoke on behalf of the American people, highlighting the strength of US-Japan relations.
“It shows that whatever the situation, the United States will strengthen its involvement in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kishida said before their meeting.
Concerns are growing in Asia about a growing stronghold of China, especially in light of its close ties with Russia, and growing tensions over self-governing Taiwan, which China considers a rebel province.
North Korea will also be on the agenda, with Biden scheduled to meet Monday with the families of Japanese abducted a few years ago to train spies in North Korea.
But the focus will be on the US leader’s launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a program to bring countries closer together through common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.
The United States has lacked an economic pillar for its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump withdrew from a multinational trans-Pacific trade agreement, leaving the field open for Chinese influence.
However, the IPEF is less likely to include binding commitments, and Asian countries and trade experts have responded warmly to a program limited by Biden’s reluctance to risk American jobs by offering increased market access to the region.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming to Japan for quad talks, and new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is also hoping.
Biden arrived in Japan late Sunday night from South Korea and will leave for the United States on Tuesday. (Reporting by Trevor Hunikat; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Sakura Murakami, Chang-run Kim and Nobuhiro Kubo; Written by Aline Lies; Edited by Michael Perry, Robert Bircel)