Before Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin land in Tokyo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson urged US to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs”
Tokyo: Just days before the Joe Biden administration’s first face-to-face with China, two senior US officials used a visit to Tokyo on Tuesday to set a confrontational tone at the talks, berating what they called the “Coercion” and “destabilizing actions” by China in its increasingly aggressive military incursions into the region.
After a flurry of meetings, US and Japanese officials released a two-page statement that left little doubt that President Joe Biden would challenge China in territorial disputes, challenges to democracy and other regional crises . Its vigorous censorship of Beijing represented the kind of vigorous approach Japan is seeking from the United States after four years of worldwide skepticism about whether the United States would remain a reliable ally.
Accusing Beijing of violating “international order” with claims and maritime activities, the statement defends Japan’s right to administer the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, also claimed by China. He also called for stability in the Taiwan Strait, as some US military officials see a growing chance that China will commit to asserting sovereignty over autonomous Taiwan in the years to come.
After Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi spoke of an “increasingly tense security environment” at the start of a meeting on Tuesday, the two US officials, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, were reassured.
“We will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to try to get what it wants,” Blinken said. Austin noted Beijing’s “destabilizing actions” in the South and East China Seas, saying, “Our goal is to ensure that we maintain a competitive advantage over China or anyone else who would threaten us or our alliance.” .
Taken together, the American statements have been the most explicit warning in recent years by American diplomats of Chinese provocations against Japan and the rest of the region. They offered a taste of what’s likely to come on Thursday, when Blinken is set to meet in Alaska with two senior Chinese officials as part of the Biden administration’s opening offer to define the boundaries of his relationship with Beijing. .
For Japan, the meetings – the highest-level overseas travel so far by the new administration – gave comfort to those who feared Biden would back down from the Trump administration‘s tough stance against Beijing.
“I think the message is for the Japanese people,” said Toshiyuki Ito, a retired vice admiral who is now a professor of crisis management and international relations at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. He added that Blinken and Austin’s visit signaled that “America has moved from ‘America first’ to the emphasis on alliance.”
The Senkaku, a chain of rock outcrops in the East China Sea, was high on Japan’s agenda.
For years, China has sent boats in or near Japanese territorial waters around the disputed islands, known as Diaoyu in China. Tensions erupted in 2012, when militants landed on one of the islands, and frequent incursions have continued since.
U.S. officials have expressed concern that Chinese and Japanese Coast Guard forces could be drawn into a shooting match as they patrol the chain of islands and are allowed by their governments to use lethal force to defend them. Last year, Chinese ships spent a total of 333 days in the contiguous waters of Japan, the longest time on record, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.
A senior US defense official also noted repeated incursions by Chinese military planes into Japan’s “air defense identification zone” – an area that stretches hundreds of kilometers from mainland Japan and includes the Senkakus. – which are often encountered by Japanese fighter planes.
Tensions have also erupted recently in the Taiwan Strait. In January, China flew four fighter jets over the waterway, which was widely interpreted as a show of force right after Biden took office.
Last week, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command warned of the growing threat from China to Taiwan, a democratically ruled island that has increasingly resisted Beijing’s insistence on being part of a “great China ”.
The commander, Admiral Philip S Davidson, said China’s threat to Taiwan “is evident in this decade – indeed, the next six years.” The next day, an American destroyer crossed the Taiwan Strait – the third such trip since Biden took office, signaling Taiwan’s support.
U.S. officials have sought to arrange talks this week with China in Anchorage, Alaska – which will come after Blinken and Austin’s trip to Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials – as an informal session to lay out issues on which the United States might be willing to work with Beijing. But they will also offer a chance to condemn China’s territorial encroachments and threats to human rights and democracy in the region.
The joint statement released on Tuesday raised “serious concerns” about human rights violations committed by Beijing against protesters in Hong Kong and against Uyghurs and other minority groups in the western Xinjiang region.
A day earlier, before Blinken and Austin landed in Tokyo, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the United States to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs” and to cooperate rather to manage differences and improve relations between the two superpowers.
“Some countries have been so keen to exaggerate and exaggerate the so-called ‘Chinese threat’ to sow discord among countries in the region, especially to disrupt their relations with China,” the spokesperson said. , Zhao Lijian. “However, their actions, going against the trend of times of peace, development and cooperation and the common aspirations of the countries and peoples of the region, will not be welcome nor will they succeed.”
During the Trump years, amid the administration’s aggressive rhetoric, Japan sought to balance its relations with China, moving closer to its neighbor to guard against growing unease over a smaller US presence in the region. .
In 2018, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Beijing, the first visit by a Japanese leader in seven years. Before the pandemic, Chinese leader Xi Jinping was invited to Japan for a state visit. Even last year, as Chinese military aggression spread and Beijing cracked down on Hong Kong, Japan continued a more lenient approach to China, its biggest trading partner.
Now, with the Biden administration in place and China increasingly assertive, Japan seems more willing to join the United States in its unequivocal critique of China’s actions.
Defense Minister Kishi said Japan “absolutely cannot accept” China’s actions aimed at increasing tensions in China’s East and South Seas, and said they violated international laws.
Yet Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has been less openly critical of China.
While Blinken has explicitly named China – and Myanmar, where the military staged a coup last month – for threatening “democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Motegi avoided directly mentioning China. He said he commended the alliance for its role in protecting “peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific”.
Analysts said Japan may temper its language as it has more to lose from the confrontation with China.
“A big difference is in their economic relationship with China,” said Narushige Michishita, vice president of the National Institute for Higher Policy Studies in Tokyo. “While the United States can live without China, Japan cannot. They must find common ground there.
Washington’s high-level visit was intended, in part, to remind Japan that it shares a lot in common with the United States. The fact that this was the first official overseas trip for Blinken and Austin since taking office was repeated several times on Tuesday to assure Japan of its value to the Biden administration.
The alliance with Japan has never suffered as much damage under the Trump administration as the American partnerships in Europe. Abe has maintained a close relationship with former President Donald Trump and hosted him for two visits to Japan. In October, when then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the two exchanged a punch that lasted 15 seconds.
When Suga met Austin and Blinken at his official residence on Tuesday, they all bowed, as is customary in Japan.
Lara Jakes, Motoko Rich and John Ismay circa 2021 The New York Times Company