US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida were yesterday to hold their first formal talks as the two leaders face fresh concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and China’s growing military assertiveness.
The virtual meeting comes after North Korea earlier this week indicated that it might resume nuclear and long-range missile testing that has been paused for more than three years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday presided over a Workers’ Party meeting where officials set policy goals for “immediately bolstering” military capabilities to counter what were described as the US’ “hostile moves,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.
The US and Japan are also concerned about China’s increasing aggression toward Taiwan.
In the past few months, Beijing has stepped up military exercises near the nation, frequently sending warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense registration zone.
Japan also remains concerned about China’s intentions in the South China Sea, where it has stepped up its military presence, and the East China Sea, where there is a long-running dispute about uninhabited islets administered by Tokyo, but claimed by Beijing.
White House officials said that the two leaders were also expected to discuss ongoing efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and a brewing crisis in eastern Europe, where Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine.
Biden earlier this week said he believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to order a further invasion of Ukrainian territory, but he did not think Putin wanted an all-out war.
Biden and top aides have sought to rally the support of NATO partners and other allies to respond with harsh sanctions against Russia if it moves forward with military action.
On Thursday, in preparation for the leaders’ call, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Japanese National Security Secretariat Secretary-General Akiba Takeo held their own call to discuss North Korea, China and “the importance of solidarity in signaling to Moscow the strong, united response that would result from any attack” on Ukraine, the White House said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also held virtual talks earlier this month with Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi and Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi, where China’s military maneuvering and North Korea’s nuclear program were discussed.
The leaders’ virtual meeting would be the first substantial exchange between them since Kishida took office in October last year.
The leaders had a brief conversation on the sidelines of a climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
Biden was the first leader to call Kishida on the morning of his first full day in office.
Biden, who has sought to put greater focus on the Indo-Pacific region amid China’s rise as a world power, had built a warm relationship with Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, and is hoping to build a similar rapport with the incumbent.
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