WASHINGTON — Calling democracy the foundation for global prosperity, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday in a bid to underscore the two countries’ alliance as a counter to an autocratic and increasingly assertive China.
The visit was Biden’s first face-to-face talks with a foreign leader as president.
Suga and Biden, who wore masks for their meeting in the state dining room in a visit modified by White House precautions against the coronavirus, are seeking to challenge 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.
Suga said democracy, human rights and other shared values were “the very foundation of prosperity of the region and the globe.” It was one of many comments seen as a reference to China, which is increasingly flexing its economic and military strength internationally. Suga, who is seeking to showcase Japan’s security commitments with the United States, Japan’s only treaty ally, told reporters before his talks with Biden that the trip was meant to “reaffirm the new and tight bond between us” as the U.S. and Japan deal with challenges in the region.
The Biden administration calls managing U.S. policies toward China and the Indo-Pacific 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,” White House 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 in September, after long serving as his chief Cabinet secretary.
Suga expressed eagerness to meet with Biden early on despite global COVID-19 lockdowns. The pandemic is changing the normal routine for a visit by a foreign leader, so Biden won’t be hosting Suga for a meal, Psaki said. Earlier Friday, Suga placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and visited with Vice President Kamala Harris. An honor guard greeted his arrival at the White House.
Suga began brief remarks to reporters before his session with Biden by expressing sympathy for the victims and families of the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. “Innocent citizens must not be exposed to any such violence,” he said.
The months-old Biden administration 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.