US pushes Japan to publicly support Taiwan at Biden-Suga summit

United States urges Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to issue joint statement of support for Taiwan amid growing Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific when he becomes the first foreign leader to meet with President Joe on Friday Biden.

Suga will visit the White House on Friday at a summit that will highlight the importance of the US-Japan alliance as part of Biden’s strategy of working with his allies to counter Beijing.

The United States wants to refer to Taiwan in the statement the leaders will issue, according to four people familiar with the situation. The last Japanese and American leaders to mention Taiwan in a joint statement were Eisaku Sato and Richard Nixon in 1969.

Taiwan has become an increasingly dangerous flashpoint as China dramatically expands its military activity across the country. Beijing on Monday sent 25 fighter jets, bombers and other planes to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the largest Chinese incursion in history.

A senior US official told the Financial Times last month that the Biden administration was worried flirt with Taiwan takeover, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.

The White House wants to reinforce the message that Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, and Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, and their Japanese counterparts, Toshimitsu Motegi and Nobuo Kishi, recently sent to China. In a joint statement, the four officials stressed “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

But Japanese officials are divided over whether Suga should comment on Taiwan, according to two people familiar with the situation.

One person said some in Japan believed the recent statement in Tokyo had already sent a message to China and that repeating the comments at the Biden and Suga level would only upset Beijing. Others, however, stressed that Japan must stand firm with the United States.

Tokyo is wary of the national security implications of commitments to Taiwan and wants to avoid a confrontational relationship with Beijing. Japan is economically dependent on China, even as countries clash around the disputed islands of Senkaku or Diaoyu.

Kurt Campbell, the top White House official in Asia who is leading the talks, has had frantic talks with Japanese officials, including during a whirlwind visit to Tokyo last week.

The White House declined to comment on the state of negotiations with Japan. Japan’s foreign ministry said a post-summit statement was still under discussion. A senior Japanese official dismissed the idea that Tokyo was reluctant to mention Taiwan.

Mireya Solís, a Japanese expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, said Suga would likely echo the sentiment in the recent statement. “If they don’t follow up with similar language, the question is why. . . I don’t think they want to create doubts, ”she said.

But she said Tokyo feared undermining the “carefully orchestrated rapprochement” it started with Beijing a few years ago.

Elizabeth Larus, an expert on Asia at the University of Mary Washington, said it was essential to show a “united front” on Taiwan. “Not only will China listen to such a statement, but also American allies in the Asia-Pacific region who need to be reassured of the United States’ engagement in the region,” she said.

Three of those familiar with the situation said the White House is also encouraging Suga to comment on the relationship between Japan and South Korea. Ties have become strained between Asian neighbors due to historic disputes, and the United States wants Tokyo and Seoul to improve relations to help resolve issues such as North Korea.

Joshua Walker, head of the Japan Society, said the United States wanted Tokyo to be more public about concerns expressed privately about everything from Taiwan to the Chinese. repression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“Biden. . . asks for a more explicit and public posture, unlike the private hard line we hear from Tokyo, but then they abstain in public because they don’t want to rock the boat on the Olympics or trade ”, a- he declared.

Concerns over Taiwan have become increasingly prominent as China has stepped up its military activities in recent months. Alarms have also escalated in Japan as any conflict between the United States and China would result in Tokyo, which has a mutual defense treaty with Washington.

The United States has not said whether it will defend Taiwan under a policy known as “strategic ambiguity” which aims to deter Chinese military action and reduce the chances that Taipei will ever declare. his independence.

When asked if the United States would defend Taiwan recently, Blinken said it would be a “big mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.” The State Department also changed its guidelines to make it easier for US officials to meet their Taiwanese counterparts.

Beijing on Monday warned the United States to “refrain from playing with fire [and] immediately stop all official contact with Taiwan ”. But Biden sent two former assistant secretaries of state, Richard Armitage and James Steinberg, and former Senator Chris Dodd to Taipei the next day to offer more support.

To pursue Demetri Sevastopulo and Robin harding on Twitter

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