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WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House in his first visit from a foreign leader amid tensions between the US and China.
Suga, who replaced longtime Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year, faced a stern warning from China’s government ahead of his visit.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who berated US diplomats in Alaska last month, phoned his Japanese counterpart to demand that Japan not “get involved in the so-called confrontation between major countries,” according to a Chinese press release.
Japan has been a key American ally in East Asia since World War II and the US government has sought to build on the relationship by recently forming a “Quad” alliance of democracies near China, including the US, Japan, Australia and India.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Biden and Suga are expected to discuss “our approach to China and our shared coordination and cooperation on that front.”
Biden so far has kept many of former President Donald Trump’s policies toward China. He has not relaxed tariffs on Chinese goods or repealed sanctions against officials for eliminating Hong Kong’s autonomy and mistreating Uyghur Muslims.
Trump claimed during the presidential campaign last year that China would “own” the US if Biden won, in part because of his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China.
As president, Trump at first cultivated a personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and joked that he would like to make himself “president for life” as the Communist leader had done. But he also developed a close relationship with Abe, often remarking fondly of his bond with “Shinzo,” using the leader’s first name.
US-China relations soured with a Trump-waged trade war aimed at forcing a deal to reform Chinese economic policies — and plunged further last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged in China.
Trump vowed to “decouple” the US and China economically in response to deception in early data on COVID-19. And the Trump administration worked to convince allies to ban Chinese telecom firm Huawei from 5G infrastructure projects over security concerns.
Biden faced scrutiny when his delegates sat through an anti-American diatribe by Chinese officials on US soil last month and after he rejoined the World Health Organization, which Trump slammed as a Chinese stooge, without insisting on reforms. The WHO subsequently produced a controversial COVID-19 origins report after an investigation controlled by China.
Unlike Trump, Biden has not spoken with Taiwanese leaders since his election victory. But amid escalating rhetoric about reunification from mainland China, a sitting US ambassador — to Palau — last month visited Taiwan in the first official US diplomatic visit since the US cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in the 1970s.
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