Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday agreed to further their cooperation across regional security, technology and global problems such as climate change, showcasing the strength of the alliance to counter China's rise.
A joint statement issued after their first in-person meeting underscored the pressing challenges posed by China's assertiveness in the region, including over Taiwan, making it the first time in more than half a century that the self-ruled island was explicitly mentioned by Japanese and U.S. leaders in such a document.
"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 a joint press conference with Suga.
With the U.S. administration seeing allies and like-minded partners vital in pushing back against China, Suga became the first foreign leader invited to the White House for talks with Biden since he took office in January.
Both Suga and Biden highlighted how the bilateral alliance is rooted in shared values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, in an apparent contrast with what Washington labels as authoritarian states such as China.
The summit took place amid growing concerns over an escalation of China's maritime assertiveness in the East and South China seas and its stepping up of military pressure on Taiwan, as well as North Korea's missile and nuclear threats.
The United States restated its "unwavering" support for Japan's defense under their security treaty, including through nuclear capabilities, the joint statement said, while also stipulating the U.S. commitment to defending the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by Beijing.
"Together, we oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan's administration of the Senkaku Islands," the two leaders said in the statement.
Reflecting the tough security environment, the two countries committed to enhance deterrence and to deepen defense cooperation across all domains, including cyber and space.
On Taiwan, the two said they "underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues."
The democratic island, which China regards as a renegade province awaiting reunification by force if necessary, is deemed a potential military flashpoint that could draw the United States into conflict with China due to its security assurances to Taipei.
The last time Taiwan was mentioned in a U.S.-Japan leaders' statement was 1969, before Tokyo and Washington recognized Beijing as the sole legal government of China.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (L) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a joint press conference after their talks at the White House in Washington on April 16, 2021. (Kyodo)
With the Biden administration putting human rights promotion at the center of its foreign policy, the two leaders expressed their "serious concerns" regarding China's alleged human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region and the crackdown on Hong Kong.
They also firmly condemned the violence committed by the Myanmar military and police against civilians following the Feb. 1 coup and called for a swift return to democracy.
The two leaders also agreed to cooperate toward pursuing North Korea's complete denuclearization, following Pyongyang's resumption of ballistic missile testing last month after a yearlong hiatus.
Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the immediate resolution of the issue of Pyongyang's past abductions of Japanese nationals.
While the relationship between Japan and South Korea has been increasingly fraught over wartime compensation issues, Suga and Biden said in their joint statement that they concurred that trilateral cooperation with Seoul is "essential to our shared security and prosperity."
On the economic front, the two countries plan to step up cooperation to create a secure supply chain for semiconductors in a bid to reduce reliance on China for such items vital to the production of high-tech goods.
They also committed a combined $4.5 billion in efforts to strengthen competitiveness in the digital field, including 5G and next generation mobile networks, an area where competition is intensifying between the United States and China.
Ahead of a virtual climate summit Biden will host next week, to which China is also invited, Japan and the United States agreed to launch a "partnership" to work toward implementing the Paris climate accord and to support decarbonization, especially in the Indo-Pacific.
Biden has vowed to put the United States back in a position to lead the world in tackling climate change. Since taking office, Biden has reversed his predecessor Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement and organized the climate summit to galvanize efforts by major economies to combat global warming.
During the summit, Suga said he conveyed Japan's resolve to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer amid lingering concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Biden supported the Japanese prime minister's efforts to hold a safe and secure games, the statement said.
The topics of their discussions also included concerns over the rise in discrimination and violence against Asian people across the United States.
"Discrimination by race cannot be permitted in any societies. We agreed on this regard," Suga said.
Upon welcoming Suga, the White House said a number of measures have been taken to ensure the health and safety of summit participants, including adequate testing, social distancing and not having a formal meal together.
Suga asked both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to visit Japan at an early date, according to Japanese officials. The Japanese leader, who arrived in the United States on Thursday, is set to return to Japan on Sunday.
The following is a chronology of major events related to diplomacy by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden involving Asian countries.
Jan. 20, 2021 -- Biden is sworn in as U.S. president.
Jan. 27 -- Biden holds first phone talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Feb. 10 -- Biden holds first phone talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Feb. 17 -- Japan says it has agreed with the United States on Tokyo's costs to host U.S. forces in fiscal 2021.
March 3 -- Biden administration releases interim guidance on its national security strategy, singling out China as posing a serious challenge to a stable and open international system.
March 10 -- South Korea says it has agreed with the United States over Seoul's costs for hosting U.S. troops in 2021.
March 12 -- Biden and his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India hold the first-ever summit of the Quad group in virtual format.
March 15 -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visit Japan for the first Cabinet-level overseas trip by members of the Biden administration.
March 16 -- U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense chiefs hold two-plus-two security talks in Tokyo.
March 18 -- U.S. and South Korean foreign and defense chiefs hold two-plus-two talks in Seoul.
March 18-19 -- Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska.
March 20 -- Austin holds talks with his Indian counterpart in India.
March 21 -- North Korea launches what appear to be two cruise missiles.
March 22 -- The United States, the European Union and other Western countries impose sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in China's Xinjiang region.
March 25 -- North Korea launches two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.
April 2 -- National security advisers from the United States, Japan and South Korea hold talks in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the U.S. review of its North Korea policy.
April 14 -- U.S. climate envoy John Kerry travels to Shanghai, the first trip to China by a senior official of the Biden administration.
April 16 -- Suga becomes the first foreign leader to meet Biden in person since his inauguration as president.