WASHINGTON – President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday pledged to work jointly on the rapid development of 5G communications technologies to prevent one of China’s major companies from dominating the global market, a symbolic first step in consolidating a alliance that collapsed during the Trump administration.
The deal is one of the pre-negotiated outcomes of a foreign leader’s first in-person visit to Mr Biden’s White House, after three months in which he spoke to his foreign counterparts only by phone. or by videoconference. For Mr. Suga, the mere fact of showing up with Mr. Biden in the rose garden – where the President initially and mistakenly called him “Yosi” instead of “Yoshi” – was proof that he had succeeded in preserving the Japan’s most important international relations despite one of the most difficult presidential transitions in history.
“Our commitment to meet face-to-face is indicative of the importance and value we both place on this relationship,” said Mr. Biden. “We will work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century.”
But the meeting’s subtext responded to China’s influence and its aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond – which Biden sees as one of the main challenges of his tenure. And it was a cautious dance, with Japanese officials fearful of being drawn into tensions with Beijing over Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the rapid split between the West’s open Internet and a closed Internet. dominated by the Chinese government.
So at a time when Mr. Biden drew lines in the sand – promising to compete with the Chinese government where it can and face it where it must – Mr. Suga was, unsurprisingly, trying to ‘water down any sense of rivalry.
Mr Biden said the two countries would “work together in a range of areas,” including “promoting secure and reliable 5G networks,” technology that promises to revolutionize the speed and utility of high-speed cellular connections. in factories and on equipment. reach rural areas. It’s also a technology in which the United States has been virtually absent, while one of Beijing’s major companies, Huawei, with support from the Chinese government, has wired large areas of Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
Mr Biden’s advisers have warned that if the United States does not engage its allies in a race to catch up, the results could be disastrous for national security: more internet traffic and more conversations around the world will pass. by circuits controlled by Beijing. Aides said Japan and the United States would spend $ 2 billion on a joint project to develop alternative approaches – a remarkable change from the 1980s when they saw each other as de powerful technological rivals.
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“Japan and the United States are both deeply invested in innovation and looking to the future,” said Mr. Biden. “This involves making sure that we invest in and protect the technologies that will maintain and strengthen our competitive advantage, and that these technologies are governed by common democratic standards that we both share – standards set by democracies, not autocracies.” . “
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Suga carefully followed his script when he spoke of “China’s influence”, saying that “we have agreed to oppose any attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas and the intimidation of others in the Region. ”Later, Mr. Suga made only one direct reference to Taiwan, at a time when the democratic island, still considered a rogue province by Beijing has been repeatedly buzzed by Chinese fighter jets.
Not issuing any warning to China, he simply said the two leaders agreed on the “importance of peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. It was language that seemed deliberately taken from 52 years ago, when President Richard M. Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato issued a statement in which the Japanese leader said that “the maintenance of peace and Security in the Taiwan region was also important to the peace and security of Japan. “
As the two executives answered questions from reporters, Mr Biden was asked about gun control after another mass shooting that left eight people dead at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Earlier today, Mr. Suga – whose country bans the possession of almost all firearms and reports some of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world – expressed his condolences. In the rose garden, he stood silently as the president called for a ban on assault weapons.
Mr Suga then responded to his own national question, on whether Japan would cancel the Olympics this year, which are due to be held in Tokyo in July, when many public health experts have argued that he there was no sure way to move forward. given the coronavirus.
“I spoke to the President about my determination to achieve the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer as a symbol of global unity,” said Mr. Suga. “President Biden has once again expressed his support for this determination.”
The Biden administration has also pressured the Japanese government to rally with the United States in announcing new greenhouse gas emissions pledges, to reach a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. According to two administration officials, the White House pushed Japan to cut emissions to half of 2013 levels at the end of the decade.
Officials had hoped that Japan would announce the end of funding for the development of coal-fired power plants abroad on Friday, but Suga has made no such public pledges.