US President Joe Biden arrived in Japan on Sunday, the last leg of his first Asia tour since taking office, amid threats from North Korea, geopolitical ambitions from China and war in Ukraine.
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After traveling to South Korea, another major US ally in the region, Mr. Biden landed at the US air base in Yokota, west of Tokyo, shortly after 5:00 p.m. (0800 GMT).
He is due to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo on Monday. Then he will take part in a Quad summit on Tuesday, a diplomatic format bringing together the leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia that aims to counterbalance the growing economic, military and technological influence of the China in Asia-Pacific.
The latter reacted strongly on Sunday through the voice of its Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for whom Washington seeks “to form small cliques in the name of freedom and openness” hoping to “contain China”.
“The so-called + Indo-Pacific strategy + (American) is, in essence, a strategy aimed at creating division, inciting confrontation and shaking peace”, declared the minister, quoted by the official news agency Chine nouvelle. “No matter how it’s presented or disguised, it’s bound to fail.”
Mr Biden called Sunday to congratulate him the winner of the legislative elections the day before in Australia, Anthony Albanese, reaffirming him “the unwavering commitment of the United States to the American-Australian alliance”. Mr. Albanese planned to participate in the Quad.
While India is the only Quad country that has not officially condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement on Sunday that he plans to have a bilateral exchange with Mr Biden.
Mr. Biden is also due to unveil in Japan a new American initiative for trade in the region, perceived as a way of eventually freeing itself from Chinese supply chains.
Mr. Biden declared himself Sunday in Seoul “prepared” for a possible new nuclear test by North Korea, while reiterating his readiness to dialogue with Pyongyang. Talks have stalled since a failed summit in 2019 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump (2017-2021).
A North Korean nuclear test ultimately did not occur during Mr. Biden’s stay in South Korea, but this scenario remains a risk in the coming days, according to United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
“If North Korea acts, we will be prepared to respond. If North Korea does not act, it has an opportunity, as we have already said, to come back to the negotiating table,” Sullivan told reporters.
In Seoul, where he arrived on Friday, Mr. Biden met his counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol, a pro-American conservative who came to power in early May. The two heads of state spoke of an intensification of joint military exercises between their countries in order to counter the “saber sounds” of Kim Jong Un.
Mr. Yoon also referred to the deployment by the United States in his country of “strategic means” to counter “a nuclear attack”. These means should include “fighter jets and missiles, unlike in the past when we only thought of the nuclear umbrella for deterrence,” he said.
Any deployment of armaments of this type, or any intensification of joint military exercises, risks angering Pyongyang, which considers these maneuvers as dress rehearsals for an invasion.
South Korean intelligence services have warned that North Korea has completed preparations to carry out a nuclear test, which would be the seventh in its history and the first in five years.
Adding to uncertainties, North Korea, whose population is not vaccinated against Covid-19, is currently facing an epidemic outbreak, with nearly 2.6 million cases and 67 deaths, according to the latest official figures. Mr. Biden’s proposal to offer vaccines to Pyongyang has remained a dead letter.
Mr. Biden referred, during a joint press conference with Mr. Yoon, to a “global competition between democracies and autocracies”, and said that the Asia-Pacific region was, in this context, a key battleground. .
“We have spoken at length about the need to ensure that (this cooperation) is not limited to the United States, Japan and Korea, but encompasses the whole of the Pacific, the South Pacific and the ‘Indo-Pacific. I think (this trip) is an opportunity,” Biden said.