President Biden hosted Japan’s prime minister at the White House on Friday — his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader — and used the occasion to showcase their common resolve in counteracting China’s military and economic aggression in East Asia.
China’s increasingly brazen activities in the region was a major topic of discussion for Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as they sat for a socially distanced and face masked meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency and isolationist agenda opened a door for Chinese President Xi Jinping to assert dominance in Asia and push messaging about the U.S. and democracies in general being on the decline — and Biden and Suga were explicit Friday that they aim to challenge that narrative.
“We’re going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st Century,” Biden said in a press conference in the White House Rose Garden after their bilateral sit-down.
Suga seconded Biden’s sentiment and said they agreed to put pressure on China should Xi’s government continue with destabilizing actions in the region.
“We agreed to oppose any attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas and intimidation of others in the region,” Suga said, speaking in Japanese. “At the same time, we agreed on the necessity for each of us to engage in frank dialogue with China, and in so doing, to pursue stability of international relations, while upholding universal values.”
China tested U.S. patience by flying fighter jets and bombers earlier this year over Taiwan, an American-allied sovereign island nation that Beijing claims as its own territory.
Japan, which has extensive economic ties to China, is at the same time locked in another land dispute with Xi over the Sankaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The meeting with Suga came after a significant week for Biden on foreign policy matters.
He announced Wednesday that he’s pulling all remaining U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by this year’s 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The long-awaited exit from Afghanistan is meant to let Biden’s administration focus most of its diplomatic muscle on Russia and China, which the president has made clear he deems as the most disruptive foreign policy threats to the U.S.
On a lighter note during the Rose Garden press conference, Biden remarked that Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to win the Masters Tournament at Augusta National earlier this week.
“You’ve got a Japanese boy coming over here, and guess what? He won the Masters,” Biden told Suga of the 29-year-old golfer.
Suga is a longtime lieutenant of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who took over the top spot in September.
Intent on showing Xi that he has Biden’s confidence, Suga wanted to meet with the U.S. president in person as soon as possible despite global restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden said he was happy to have him.
“As you know, this is the first foreign leader to visit me in my presidency,” Biden said before reporters were escorted out of the State Dining Room for their meeting, “and I’m really pleased to welcome such a close ally and good partner.”
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