Japanese Prime Minister first to meet with Biden . . .
Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on April 16. It will be Biden’s first in-person meeting, a reflection of the high importance his administration has placed on its relations with Japan for advancing its interests in the Asia Pacific. Many of the issues on the agenda will likely be China-related, including China’s naval posturing around the Senkaku /Diaoyu Islands, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, calls for Japan to impose sanctions on China over human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic group in Xinjiang, and stability on the Korean peninsula.
Beijing responds . . .
China has been signalling that Suga and Biden must consider its position on such matters in their upcoming conversation. Over the weekend, a Chinese aircraft carrier and five military ships and a transport aircraft passed near Okinawa. China also said military drills near Taiwan would become regular occurrences. This move comes days after U.S.-Australia naval exercises in the Eastern Pacific and a U.S.-India joint training exercise in the Indian Ocean. In a call on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Japanese counterpart that "China hopes that Japan . . . will [not be] misled by some countries holding biased view[s] against China." Japan’s Foreign Minister reportedly reiterated concerns over Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and China's new law that permits its coast guard to fire on foreign ships.
Suga’s balancing act . . .
Prime Minister Suga's approval rating has taken a beating, but mostly due to domestic matters like corruption, his handling of the pandemic, and his commitment to proceed with the Olympic Games despite persistent challenges. The international issues arising in talks with Biden will test Suga in international diplomacy, an area his critics say is a weakness. But Suga faces significant pressure to strike a balance between maintaining political and security alliances with the West, on one side, and economic relations with China, on the other. Any outcomes and commitments, or lack thereof, at the upcoming bilateral meeting will likely leave publics and pundits on both sides wanting more.