Biden's top diplomat calls for deeper Japan ties, as China, North Korea cast shadow

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for deeper economic ties with Japan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for deeper economic ties with Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday (March 16) called for deeper economic ties with Japan, as he and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin seek to use their first trip abroad to solidify Asian alliances as a bulwark against China's assertiveness.

Their visit to Tokyo and Seoul is the first overseas outing by top Cabinet members of President Joe Biden's team and follows a virtual summit last week of the leaders the United States, Japan, Australia and India - the Quad alliance.

Issues on the agenda range from freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas and semiconductor supply-chain security, to North Korean nuclear issue and the military coup in Myanmar.

"The economic relationship between the United States and Japan is, as you know very well, one of the strongest in the world," Mr Blinken said in remarks to a group of business leaders in Tokyo.

He said the pandemic had exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains for critical products, including medical equipment, supplies, semiconductors.

The countries needed to work together to build secure and resilient supply chains for the future, he said.

North Korea is likely to be in sharp focus after the White House said Pyongyang had so far rebuffed efforts from the United States to engage in dialogue. North Korea warned the new US administration against "causing a stink" if it wants peace, North Korean state media reported on Tuesday.

The trip sends an "important signal of resolve to work with allies" at a time when the region faces mounting pressure from China and continued threat from North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, Sung Kim, the Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs told reporters during a briefing ahead of the visit.

The Quad summit pledged to work to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific, a major priority for Tokyo, and cooperate on maritime, cyber and economic security in the face of challenges from Beijing.

Analysts also expect Tokyo to seek US support for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and follow-up talks on other subjects that figured at the Quad summit, such as the commitment to boost Covid-19 vaccine supplies in Asia and climate change.

The secretaries are expected to make a courtesy call on Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is set to visit the White House as the first foreign leader to meet Biden in April.

Mr Blinken and Mr Austin will meet Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi in what is known as the 2+2 talks.

Both officials will leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday and hold talks with counterparts in the South Korean capital until Thursday.

They are also set to meet their Chinese counterparts in Alaska on Thursday.