China Rebuffs Biden, Suga Following Sharp U.S.-Japanese Comments
U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Yoshihide Suga, Japan's prime minister, arrive to a news conference at the White House. (Photographer: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg)

China Rebuffs Biden, Suga Following Sharp U.S.-Japanese Comments

China rejected criticism of its policies by U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, saying their expressions of concern meddled in China’s affairs.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing was replying to a joint statement issued by the White House after the two leaders met, which said they “shared their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order.”

The U.S.-Japanese stance “severely violates basic norms governing international relations,” the ministry said on its website on Saturday. “China deplores and rejects it.” The U.S. and Japan are “ganging up to form cliques and fanning bloc confrontation,” it said.

China loomed large on the agenda when Biden hosted Suga at the White House on Friday, his first in-person meeting with a foreign leader since taking office in January.

China Rebuffs Biden, Suga Following Sharp U.S.-Japanese Comments

“We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China, and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea as well as North Korea to ensure a future of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Biden said at joint news conference. Suga said the leaders pledged “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

Japan must strike a balance between deterring Beijing while keeping China, its largest trading partner, from lashing out. Suga, who took office in September, declined to provide details of his discussions about the Taiwan Strait when asked by a reporter, but the two leaders issued the statement hours later.

It called for easing tensions over the strait, where China has escalated military activity, putting pressure on the government in Taipei. Biden and Suga also cited concern about Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region of China, areas where the U.S. and its allies have accused Beijing of human-rights abuses.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington also questioned the U.S. support of Japan’s decision to dump radioactive wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. “Do the U.S. and Japan want to forge a nuclear contaminated Indo-Pacific?” a spokesperson said on the embassy’s website.

Olympics, Technology

On other topics, Biden expressed in the statement his support for Japan hosting the Tokyo Olympics, which are set to begin in July, despite the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Biden also said the two leaders agreed to collaborate on technology, including the supply shortage on semiconductors that’s idled some U.S. auto manufacturing and created shortages of some consumer products.

“We’re going to work together across a range of fields,” Biden told reporters. “From promoting secure and reliable 5G networks to increasing our cooperation on supply chains for critical sectors like semiconductors, to driving joint research in areas like AI, genomics, quantum computing and much more.”

The meeting’s timing, days after Biden announced a withdrawal from Afghanistan, provides the most visible sign yet that the American president is determined to shift the center of gravity of U.S. foreign policy to the Indo-Pacific. And for Japan, being first into the White House gives Suga a prime chance to set the tone for ties with Washington over a slew of issues for years to come.

Friday’s meeting builds on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visits abroad last month, to Japan and South Korea, and it comes amid China’s continuing aggression over Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

China escalated its military intimidation of the government in Taipei by sending 25 fighters, bombers and other planes into the southwest section of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone early this week. Chinese military activity has steadily picked up around democratically-ruled Taiwan in recent months.

Suga said he and Biden “agreed to oppose any attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East or South China Seas and intimidation of others in the region.”

He added: “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.”

Last month, Blinken, his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi and both nations’ defense ministers made unusually explicit references to China’s “coercion and destabilizing behavior” and to concerns over human rights.

Yet despite Japan’s willingness to criticize China and to step up its commitments on climate change, the U.S. and Japanese approaches aren’t entirely in lockstep.

Emissions Targets

While Japan is investing heavily in green energy and has set a zero-emissions target for 2050, it’s been criticized for not moving quickly enough to reduce emissions by 2030. Biden and Suga said they agreed to cooperate on climate change and green energy.

And while Japan is worried about China’s military buildup, it is arguably just as concerned about undercutting economic ties. China is Japan’s biggest export market, with more than 13,000 Japanese companies operating there, according to a survey published last year.

Suga has come under pressure, including from lawmakers in his own party, for Japan to join other major democracies in imposing sanctions on China over human rights abuses. But Japan lacks a legal framework to take such a step, and some members of its business community are opposed.

In his remarks to reporters, Suga tread lightly on questions about human rights abuses in China. “As we engaged in an exchange of views over the recent situation we also discussed the circumstances in Taiwan and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as well,” Suga said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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