In their first telephone calls with US president-elect Joe Biden since the US election, the leaders of Japan, South Korea and Australia yesterday reaffirmed plans to form close ties with the next administration to tackle issues including climate change and regional security.
The three key Asian allies — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — joined other global leaders in recognizing the Democratic challenger’s victory over US President Donald Trump, who has so far refused to concede.
All sides expressed their determination to strengthen bilateral ties, as well as tackle global issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, Biden’s office said.
The conversations signal that Biden will pursue a markedly different strategy from Trump.
Suga said that he spoke with Biden by telephone and confirmed the importance of bilateral ties.
“President-elect Biden said that he looks forward to strengthening the US-Japan alliance and working together on achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Suga said in separate comments at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.
Biden told Suga that the security treaty between the two countries covers East China Sea islands — the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — that are administered by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.
Speaking to Moon, Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea, highlighting Seoul as a “lynchpin of the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region,” Moon’s spokesman Kang Min-seok said.
“President Moon asked for close cooperation for the forward-looking development of the bilateral alliance, and the denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Kang told a briefing in Seoul.
“President-elect Biden said he would closely cooperate to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue,” he said.
South Korean officials are also hopeful that Biden would quickly resolve a drawn-out, multi-billion US dollar dispute with Washington over the cost of thousands of US troops on the peninsula.
Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change were key themes in Biden’s calls with all three leaders, readouts from Biden’s office showed.
Morrison said he spoke with Biden about emission reduction technology, although a target for zero net emissions by 2050 was not discussed.
“I raised with the president-elect the similarity between the president-elect’s comments and policies regarding emissions reduction technologies that we needed to achieve that, and we look forward to working on those issues,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Moon and Suga said they agreed to arrange summits with Biden shortly after his inauguration in January.
Biden will also face the challenge of managing unresolved political and economic disputes between South Korea and Japan, which have threatened a military intelligence-sharing arrangement and complicated US efforts to counter China.
Biden on Wednesday named Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff, his first major appointment as he builds his administration.
Anthony Blinken, a diplomat and longtime confidant of Biden is seen as a likely pick for secretary of state or national security adviser, both key roles for Asian allies.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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