US Secretary of State Blinken makes overseas debut with visit to Japan, Korea

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also meet business leaders and Japanese journalists.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also meet business leaders and Japanese journalists.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Tokyo on Monday (March 15), starting a four-day visit to the region, highlighting Washington's renewed focus on alliances in Indo-Pacific in the face of an assertive China.

The visit, from Monday to Thursday, to Tokyo and Seoul is the first overseas trip by top Cabinet members of President Joe Biden's administration and follows last week's Quad alliance summit of the leaders of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

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

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.

"The most important thing that's going to happen on this trip is that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin are making Japan and Korea (and India for Secretary Austin) the first steps on their first trip to the region," said Mr Brian Harding, a South-east Asia expert at the US Institute of Peace.

"So, by touching down in Tokyo, in a lot of ways, it'll already be successful, and sends an incredibly powerful signal about the priorities of this administration."

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 Mr 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.

Mr Blinken will also meet business leaders and Japanese journalists.

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