Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will become the first foreign leader to hold a face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden in a summit planned for April 16, where China will be high on the agenda.
The meeting in Washington demonstrates the importance the U.S. attaches to relations with Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in announcing the trip on Friday. “The U.S. and Japan share the basic values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” he added.
The timing of the summit with the U.S.’s most powerful ally in Asia underscores the Biden administration’s focus on shoring up ties with partners in the region, as it tries to pressure China over everything from human rights to trade and the global coronavirus vaccine rollout. Japan walks a narrow line as it seeks to maintain close ties with its only military ally, the U.S., while avoiding damage to economic ties with its biggest trade partner, China.
White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting with Suga. Biden has held virtual summits with the likes of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Before the summit, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will lay out the emerging U.S. strategy toward North Korea in a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened in recent months to modernize his nuclear arsenal and his regime last month test-fired ballistic missiles for the first time in a year, posing an early test for Biden’s administration.
Secretary of State Secretary of State Antony Blinken chose Japan, followed by South Korea, as the destinations for his first overseas trip in office, which took place last month. In a joint statement, Blinken, his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi, and the two countries’ defense ministers made unusually explicit references to China’s “coercion and destabilizing behavior” and to concerns over human rights.
That followed a virtual summit between the so-called Quad of U.S., Japan, India and Australia, which was met with criticism from China.
Suga, a diplomatic novice, has come under pressure, including from lawmakers in his own party, to join other major democracies in imposing sanctions on China over human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic group in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang.
The U.S., Canada, the European Union and the U.K. have all imposed such economic penalties, spurring calls for Japan to follow suit, particularly with the Group of Seven summit in the U.K. coming up in June. While Japan has expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang, it lacks a legal framework to impose sanctions.