US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China’s threats to regional stability during bilateral talks in Tokyo on Tuesday, warning that the United States and Japan would push back if necessary.
Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with their counterparts in Tokyo for a series of bilateral talks and a joint “2+2” session, marking the first international trip by Biden Cabinet officials.
This comes just after President Joe Biden met with the leaders of India, Australia and Japan in a virtual summit on Friday, in his first multilateral summit as President.
“We believe in democracy and human rights, the rule of law, because we’ve seen how our own countries are stronger because we adhere to those values. And because they’re under threat in many places, including in this region,” Blinken said during a joint news conference in Tokyo, pointing to the recent military coup and mass protests in Myanmar as an example.
“China uses coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” he added. “We will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.”
Speaking to reporters, Austin said that China had spent the past two decades modernizing its military while the US had been focused on the Middle East. “So our goal is to make sure that we maintain a competitive edge over China, or anyone else that would want to threaten us or our alliance,” he said. “And that we developed the operational plans and capabilities to be able to deter any aggressor.”
The strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific has changed in the past few years, said Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, in both military capability and in the balance of power.
“(The) free and open international order is greatly challenged by attempts to change the status quo by force and progress of authoritarian system,” Motegi said.
He said Washington and Tokyo “agreed that China’s actions, which are not consistent with the existing international order, are presenting various issues against the Japan-US alliance and international society.”
Motegi said the US and Japan “oppose any attempts to alter the status quo in the area including East China Sea and South China Sea, and shared a serious concern regarding China’s Coast Guard Law,” referring to a Chinese law enacted in February that allows its Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels entering disputed South China Sea waters.
Motegi also said the US had reconfirmed its commitment to help Japan defend the Senkakus, a string of disputed islands in the East China Sea which China calls the Diayous and claims as its own.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday that the exchanges between the US and Japan should help increase mutual understanding and trust among countries in the region and “not target or undermine the interests of any third party.”
Myanmar and North Korea on the agenda
Blinken and Motegi “condemned the coup and use of violence in Burma, expressed concern over the expansion of authoritarian and aggressive actions by the People’s Republic of China, and agreed to strengthen like-minded coordination across these issues,” according to the US State Department statement.
The Biden administration has previously criticized the ongoing violence in Myanmar, which has ratcheted up in recent weeks as the military attempts to crackdown mass civilian protests. At least 126 people have died since the military seized power on February 1, with security forces opening fire on peaceful protesters, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
During the talks, Blinken also emphasized the “powerful and vital” economic relationship between the two countries.
“It is no accident that we chose Japan for the first Cabinet level overseas travel of the Biden-Harris administration,” he said. “Japan and the United States are deep in cooperation on the key issues of our time, the issues that actually affect the lives of our citizens – whether it’s combating climate change, dealing with cybersecurity, dealing with global health security.”
The two countries reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea, and to create opportunity for further trilateral cooperation between the US, Japan, and South Korea, according to a statement from the US State Department.
The Biden administration has tried to reach out to North Korea through multiple channels, but Pyongyang has been unresponsive thus far, Blinken said. Austin added that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains a top priority, and that alliances with South Korea and Japan are the most important tools the US has in combating the threat from North Korea.
Other issues on the agenda on Tuesday included the US-Japan supply chain, clean energy, economic recovery after Covid-19, and how to prevent further pandemics. They reiterated their commitments to decarbonization, expanding clean energy technologies, and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Blinken and Austin are scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga later on their trip, before heading to South Korea to meet their counterparts there. CNN previously reported that Suga will be the first foreign leader to visit the US under Biden’s presidency, according to a senior administration official.