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Japan, US to share China concern as ministers meet in Tokyo

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Defense and foreign ministers from the US and Japan are to discuss their concern over China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region as the Biden administration tries to reaffirm engagement with its key regional allies.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are to hold so-called “two plus two” security talks on Tuesday with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. The US ministers arrived in Tokyo late Monday.

President Joe Biden‘s decision to send his key ministers to Japan as their first overseas visit – rather than hosting Japanese officials in Washington – means a lot for Japan, which considers its alliance with the US “the cornerstone” of its diplomatic and security policies.

That shows “the U.S emphasis on the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Motegi said in a parliamentary session Monday. He said China will be the topic he and Blinken discuss most, including how they can bolster their deterrence and response capability in answer to China.

Japan is in a delicate diplomatic situation because its economy, like those of other countries in the region, heavily depends on China.

But it considers China’s escalating maritime activity in the region a security threat. Beijing has built militarised manmade islands in the South China Sea and is pressing its claim to virtually all of the sea’s key fisheries and waterways.

Japan is concerned about China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea and its increased activity in the disputed area.

China has denied it is expansionist and said it is only defending its territorial rights.

On the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip abroad, Blinken and Austin are expected to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the situation in Myanmar after its military coup.

Japan and the U.S. are expected to reaffirm the importance of their three-way alliance with South Korea and may touch on the strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul over wartime compensation issues, but the issue is expected to be brought up in a subtle manner, Japanese officials said.

Later Tuesday, they will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is expected to visit Washington sometime in the first half of April to meet with Biden in person – becoming the first foreign leader to do so since he became president in January.

In a move meant to signal his intention for the US to return to more engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, Biden on Friday held a first summit of the leaders from Australia, Japan, India and the U.S. known as the “Quad” virtually and emphasised Washington’s commitment to the region.

Blinken and Austin on Wednesday will head to South Korea, another key reginal ally.

Blinken will meet senior Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, on their way back to Washington. Austin will go from Seoul to New Delhi for meetings with Indian leaders.

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