US President Joe Biden on Friday welcomed Japan's prime minister as his first guest, pledging a united front faced with a rising China and greater cooperation on 5G technology and climate change.
Waiting nearly three months for his first summit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden told Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that Japan had "our iron-clad support" on security issues and beyond.
"We're going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century," Biden told a joint, socially distanced news conference in the White House Rose Garden.
"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," he said.
Suga said Biden reaffirmed that the US-Japan Security Treaty covers the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands— one of several areas in the region where Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyu, has increasingly shown its might.
"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.
"Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the universal values that link our alliance," he said, echoing a frequent theme of Biden.
Suga said he and Biden also "reaffirmed" the "importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait" — an especially sensitive issue for China which claims the self-governing democracy and has recently stepped up penetration of the island's air defenses.
In a highly unusual statement for a Japanese leader, Suga also voiced concern over a wave of attacks in the United States against people of Asian descent.
Action on climate
Biden's decision to invite Suga as his first guest— with South Korean President Moon Jae-in set to come in May— is meant to show the value his administration puts on allies as he zeroes in on a rising China as America's most pressing challenge.
On another of his key priorities, Biden said he and Suga agreed on the need for "ambitious climate commitments" and indicated that both nations would soon announce goals by 2030.
Biden will lead a virtual summit next week in hopes of rallying greater commitments on climate amid growing evidence of a planetary crisis as average temperatures hit record highs and natural disasters become more frequent.
Japan, the world's third-largest economy, promised under the Paris accord to reduce emissions by 26 percent by 2030 but from 2013 levels— goals that experts say are not ambitious enough to meet Suga's goal of a carbon-neutral Japan in 2050.
"We confirmed that Japan and the US will lead global decarbonization," Suga said.
Alliance on 5G
A senior US official said that the United States and technology leader Japan agreed on a $2-billion initiative to develop fifth-generation internet and beyond.
China's Huawei has taken an early dominant role in 5G, which is becoming an increasingly crucial part of the global economy, despite heavy US pressure on the company, which Washington argues poses threats to security and privacy in the democratic world.
Without giving details, Biden said the United States and Japan were both deeply invested in future technology.
"That includes making sure we invest in and protect the technologies that will maintain and sharpen our competitive edge and those technologies are governed by shared democratic norms that we both share— norms set by democracies, not by autocracies," Biden said.
Suga in September succeeded his ally Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, who was one of the few democratic allies to manage to preserve stable relations with Biden's volatile predecessor Donald Trump.
While Suga's meeting with Biden was free from drama, Japan has also been careful not to antagonize China, which remains the vital top trading partner for resource-scarce Japan.
Tokyo since Abe's time has worked to stabilize relations with Beijing and not joined Washington in sanctions over rights concerns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Biden and Suga also discussed next moves on North Korea, where the United States is reviewing policy after Trump's unusually personal diplomacy.
Suga said that Japan, a prime target for North Korea, wanted the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.