Biden Eyes China Amid SKorea,Japan Trip05/19 06:19
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden departs on a six-day trip to South
Korea and Japan aiming to build rapport with the two nations' leaders while
also sending an unmistakable message to China: Russia's faltering invasion of
Ukraine should give Beijing pause about its own saber-rattling in the Pacific.
Biden departs Thursday and is set to meet newly elected South Korean
President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Their talks
will touch on trade, increasing resilience in the global supply chain, growing
concerns about North Korea's nuclear program and the explosive spread of
COVID-19 in that country.
While in Japan, Biden will also meet with fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific
strategic alliance known as the Quad, a group that includes Australia, India
The U.S. under Biden has forged a united front with democratic allies that
has combined their economic heft to make Russia pay a price for its invasion of
Ukraine. That alliance includes South Korea and Japan. But even as Biden is to
be feted by Yoon at a state dinner and hold intimate conversations with
Kishida, the U.S. president knows those relationships need to be deepened if
they're to serve as a counterweight to China's ambitions.
"We think this trip is going to put on full display President Biden's
Indo-Pacific strategy and then it will show in living color, the United States
can at once lead the free world in responding to Russia's war in Ukraine, and
that at the same time chart a course for effective, principled American
leadership and engagement in a region that will define much of the future of
the 21st century," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
The war in eastern Europe has created a sense of urgency about China among
major U.S. allies in the Pacific. Many have come to see the moment as their own
existential crisis -- one in which it's critical to show China it should not
try to seize contested territory through military action.
Biden's overseas travel comes as he faces strong domestic headwinds: an
infant formula shortage, budget-busting inflation, a rising number of COVID-19
infections, and increasing impatience among a Democratic base bracing for a
U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is likely to result in a roll back of abortion
The conundrums Biden faces in Asia are no less daunting.
China's military assertiveness has grown over the course of Biden's
presidency, with its provocative actions frequently putting the region on edge.
Last month, China held military drills around Taiwan after a group of U.S.
lawmakers arrived for talks on the self-governed island. Late last year China
stepped up sorties into Taiwan's air space. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign
state, but Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has not ruled out
the use of force to achieve unification.
Japan has reported frequent intrusions by China's military vessels into
Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The uninhabited islets are controlled by Japan but claimed by China, which
calls them Diaoyu.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday criticized what he called
negative moves by Washington and Tokyo against Beijing during a video call with
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
"What arouses attention and vigilance is the fact that, even before the
American leader has set out for the meeting, the so-called joint Japan-U.S.
anti-China rhetoric is already kicking up dust," Wang said, according to
China's Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, South Korea could tilt closer to the U.S. under Yoon, who took
office last week. The new South Korean president has criticized his predecessor
as "subservient" to China by seeking to balance the relationships with
Washington and Beijing. To neutralize North Korea's nuclear threats, Yoon has
pledged to seek a stronger U.S. security commitment.
The Biden administration has warned China against assisting Russia in its
war with Ukraine. In March, the U.S. informed Asian and European allies that
American intelligence determined that China had signaled to Russia a
willingness to provide military support and financial backing to reduce the
blow of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.
Biden administration officials say that the Russian invasion has been a
clarifying moment for some of the bigger powers in Asia as financial sanctions
and export bans have been put in place to check Russia.
U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, Biden's top envoy to Japan, said the Japanese
have stood out by rallying eight of 10 members of Association of Southeast
Nations to back a U.N. vote against the Russian invasion.
"Japan has been a pacesetter that has picked up and set the pace for South
Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and others here in the Indo Pacific
area," Emanuel said of Tokyo's support of Ukraine following the Russian
Biden, who is making his first presidential trip to Asia, met Kishida
briefly on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference last year shortly after
the Japanese prime minister took office. He has yet to meet with Yoon
face-to-face. The South Korean leader, a former prosecutor who came to office
without political or foreign policy experience, was elected in a closely fought
Biden arrives in the midst of an unfolding crisis in North Korea, where a
mass COVID-19 outbreak is spreading through its unvaccinated population. North
Korea acknowledged domestic COVID-19 infections for the first time last week,
ending a widely doubted claim it had been virus-free.
In recent months, North Korea has test-launched a spate of missiles in what
experts see as an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure its rivals to
accept the country as a nuclear state and relax their sanctions.
Sullivan said U.S. intelligence officials have determined there's a "genuine
possibility" that North Korea will conduct another ballistic missile test or
nuclear test around the time of Biden's visit to Asia.
To be certain, China will also be carefully watching for "cracks in the
relationship" during Biden's trip, said Scott Kennedy, a China economic analyst
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Sullivan confirmed that Biden will use the trip to launch the
long-anticipated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a proposed pact to set rules
for trade and digital standards, ensuring reliable supply chains, worker
protections, decarbonization and tax and anticorruption issues. Known as IPEF,
it's a planned substitute for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President
Donald Trump left in 2017 and that the Biden administration has not rejoined.
In terms of economic power, the U.S. slightly lags China in the Pacific,
according to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank. But the institute's
analysis shows the possibility that a trade pact could magnify the combined
power of the U.S. and its allies relative to China. Biden's challenge is that
IPEF would not necessarily cut tariff rates or give allied signatories greater
access to U.S. markets, something Asian countries seek.
Biden and his fellow leaders also have their own national interests and
differences over what it means to strengthen supply chains that have been
rattled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic president says the U.S. must increase computer chip
production on American soil. The shortage has fueled inflation by delaying
production of autos, life-saving medical devices, smartphones, video game
consoles, laptops and other modern conveniences. Yet allies in Asia are talking
about the need to expand their capacity for making semiconductors -- a valuable
export -- in their own countries.