Joe Biden

Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the Official Working Visit of Japan

April 15, 2021

Via Teleconference

2:38 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. And for our friends in Japan who are joining us in the middle of your night, a special thanks for making the time today. Today's call will be on background and the contents will be embargoed until 8:00 p.m. tonight, Eastern Standard Time.

I'm happy to turn it over to our speaker, [senior administration official], to give us some opening remarks. And then we're happy to take your questions.

Over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. And thanks, all, for your patience, for folks who are holding, and for -- also for colleagues phoning in from Tokyo.

So, as we speak now, the Prime Minister -- Prime Minister Suga is airborne and is winding his way to Washington, D.C., for what will be the first in-person hosting bilateral of a leader during President Biden's presidency. And I think we've been working hard and anxiously, and looking very much forward for his arrival tonight.

Just by way of context, I think you all are familiar with the overall mantra of how we see our approach both domestically and internationally. Clearly, the President is focusing on COVID, on economic recovery. And I think what get perhaps slightly less attention but is extremely important to him is bipartisanship -- trying to mend and engage actively across the aisle -- the political aisle. And we see that, I think, most predominantly in efforts that we're trying to undertake in the Asia-Pacific.

Internationally, we're deeply engaged with partners and allies. And I think what -- if you want to put this week's news in proper context, I think one of the reasons why the President and his team has taken the careful steps on Afghanistan is actually to free up the time and attention and resources from our senior leadership and our military to focus on what we believe are the fundamental challenges of the 21st century. And they lie, fundamentally, in the Indo-Pacific.

As we've engaged with allies and partners, a lot of that has been in Europe, extensively in the Asia-Pacific. We've taken a number of steps at the outset.

You saw President Biden ask his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense to go to both Japan and South Korea -- and then for Secretary Austin, down to India -- as part of their first visits. We hosted the first in-video summit, the trilateral -- or, excuse me, the Quad with Japan, India, Australia, and the United States. And now this is the first hosting of a leader here in Washington, D.C.

So the order will be: Tomorrow, the Prime Minister has some private meetings in the morning. He will have an engagement with the Vice President up at her home in the Naval Observatory.

He will -- he will come to the White House. We plan to have a long-session -- a tête-à-tête between the two leaders, in which they're going to have a chance to really get to know one another, and then be joined in a larger meeting with senior officials, and then be joined by members of the Cabinet.

I think the idea of the visit is to underscore what we would really describe as almost an axiom or a maxim for the U.S. role in the region: The United States can only be effective in Asia when the U.S.-Japan relationship is strong and Japan is steady and stable. And so we've experienced almost 10 years under Prime Minister Abe, and now Prime Minister Suga follows suit, and we're looking forward to a long and strong partnership with him.

We recognize some of the challenges that both our countries are facing. And I think we're looking to this meeting to take steps that -- to buttress both leaders and also the partnership as we go forward.

I think you will see, in the deliverables, the things that we've been focusing on is a broader, deeper set of engagements across technology, policy, health-related matters, climate, and also regional security.

I will say we have -- we will announce tomorrow a very substantial commitment -- a Japanese commitment to an initiative to work on 5G and next steps beyond 5G -- $2 billion -- working in partnership with the United States.

Prime Minister Suga also intends to discuss with President Biden specific steps on climate that we believe will put Japan at the lead, in terms of an ambitious set of goals for 2030.

And we'll also talk about regional security issues in depth. The United States is nearing the completion of its review on North Korea policy. Japan has been consulted all along, but the two leaders will now have a chance to put the finishing touches on what is an important initiative for the United States.

The United States, the President, the whole team will underscore Japan's interests in these issues. Now -- not only medium, long-term [sic] -- -range missiles and the nuclear program, but the status of the abductees that have come from Japan and are -- that were held in North Korea.

We will also talk in depth about China and the Cross-Strait circumstances. And I think the United States and Japan seek to play a steady, careful role to underscore our mutual commitment in the maintenance of peace and stability, and to take steps to calm tensions and to discourage provocations.

I believe that the most important element of this -- of this visit is for the two leaders to understand one another, to build trust and confidence, and really to take what is our most important alliance to the next level so that we're not only cooperating on security and foreign policy issues, but increasingly, on technology, on economic issues, and across the board.

I think I'll stop there. Happy to take any questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. Operator, we're ready to open the lines to questions.

Q Thank you for doing this. I'm Janne Pak. As you know, the current relationship between South Korea and Japan is not good. The strengthening of the U.S.-South Korea-Japan alliance has promoted the denuclearization of North Korea. What role can President Biden play to Japanese Prime Minister Suga in order to normalize relations between South Korea and Japan? Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Look, it's an important point. I would simply say that the United States enjoys very strong and steady relations between United States and Japan, and also between the United States and South Korea.

It is concerning to us, even to the point of being painful for us, to see relations between Japan and South Korea fall to the current level. The political tensions are such that we believe it actually impedes all of our abilities to be effective in Northeast Asia, and I think the President will want to discuss this in some detail with Prime Minister Suga.

We fully understand that this is a bilateral matter between South Korea and Japan. But as a friend of both, we have an interest in seeing relations improved between these two great democracies. We have so much in front of us and we're hopeful that we'll be able to find a way to engage on that directly going forward. Thank you.


Q Hi. Thank you so much for doing this call. I really appreciate it. (Inaudible) that the U.S. is hoping to mention Taiwan in the joint (inaudible) that's going to come out -- or the joint statement that will come out at the end of this summit. I'm wondering if you can confirm whether that is the case.

And I'm also wondering if you -- if the President plans to push Japan to take a stronger position on Chinese human rights abuses, as well as the situation in Myanmar.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you. So those are two good questions. So, we -- look, you've seen a series of statements out of both the United States and Japan on the Cross-Strait circumstances, on Taiwan, on our desire for the maintenance of peace and stability, on preserving the status quo. And I expect that you will see both a formal statement and consultations on these matters.

And I think this is consistent with and in line with the kinds of dialogues and discussions that you've seen between the United States and Japan in recent times. And I think it follows on nicely from the statements in the two-plus-two.

I do want to underscore that neither country is seeking to raise tensions or to provoke China. But at the same time, we're trying to send a clear signal that some of the steps that China is taking -- for instance, its -- you know, its airplane -- its fighters and bombers, flying them into Taiwan's airspace -- is ana- -- antithetical to the mission of maintaining peace and stability. And I think we'll want to underscore that as we go forward.

But, at the same time, we also recognize the deep economic and commercial ties between Japan and China. And Prime Minister Suga wants to walk a careful course, and we respect that. At the same time, you will also see initiatives designed for the United States and Japan to take steps to diversify our supply chains; to, you know, support alternative 5G networks associated with -- you know, beyond or outside of the Huawei network. So you'll see a number of things that are designed to ensure the safety and security of our technology and our supply chains.

On your second question, I believe we will raise all of these issues and they will be discussed. I've been particularly struck in recent weeks at Japan's active engagement on Burma -- on Myanmar. They have suspended certain kinds of aid. They've stopped certain investments.

But more importantly, they've played a very active role behind the scenes, diplomatically, encouraging ASEAN -- the countries in Southeast Asia -- to engage proactively with the leadership -- the junta -- that have seized power, and has tried to keep lines of communication over -- open to imprisoned NLD leaders.

I think all issues in Asia will be discussed openly, directly. And I do believe that the United States and Japan share overarching values and views about the situation that confronts us.

Q Hello, I had the same question on --


Q Hello. I had the same question on Taiwan. So, no question now. Sorry. Thank you.

Q Yes, hi.


Q Thank you very much for doing this. You talked about the Afghanistan decision allowing the freeing up of resources, and I wondered if you could expand a little bit about that. And I also wondered if there will be any follow-on from the Quad meeting, in terms of supplying the COVID vaccine to countries (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, great -- great questions. Thank you. So, on the first question, I would say the most important dimension of this is not the narrow military resources -- you know, the issues associated with, you know, guns or, you know, military assets -- although, they are substantial and some of them will be redirected.

Really, the largest issue is how much time and attention -- when American forces are in harm's way, it demands the time and attention of the most senior leadership in our government. And I think there is a recognition that, really, the big issues that are playing out are playing out in the western Pacific; and that Afghanistan was really receiving a disproportionate amount of time and focus and attention of the senior-most leadership; and that, ultimately, we had to, you know, make a choice about where we wanted to focus our strategic efforts. And I think it was thought that more of that should be in the western Pacific. And I support that; I think that's correct.

There will be discussion on the Quad. I think the two leaders are likely to discuss and announce when we're likely to have a -- the next four-person meeting. And we'll have more on that tomorrow. And we will -- the Prime Minister will, again, underscore the commitment -- for those of you who don't know, the Quad partners agreed to put in place an initiative with Japanese and American financing, both direct and leveraged, along with the J&J vaccine from the United States, that we would take steps to improve and invest in capacity -- in vaccine capacity in India -- to the point that we would expect to -- over the course of the next 12 to 14 months, to do about a billion doses, which would be directed in -- into Southeast Asia, in particular.

And I think the two leaders are going to review the progress to date on this and underscore future plans of what we want to do -- the future plans of what we want to do in the Quad going forward.

So we view the Quad, even though it's an unofficial gathering, as a huge part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific going forward.

Q Hello?


Q Hi. Thank you for doing this. Just as a follow-up question on human rights issue, if I may: Human rights issue, especially in Hong Kong and Xinjiang has been one of the biggest priority for Biden administration. And I wonder if the United States is going to try to engage Prime Minister Suga in addressing the human rights issue in China in the coming summit or in the future and, also, if the two leaders will try to have somehow aligned position in the future. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I think that we will discuss all matters associated with -- with China and developments in the region. I think we will likely discuss the situation in Xinjiang and in Hong Kong.

But we -- we expect -- each of our countries has slightly different perspectives. And I don't think we will, you know, insist on Japan somehow signing on to every dimension of our approach.

We share general strategic views across Asia and the world. And I think the goal of these discussions is not to fully align but to fully inform so we know where we're in fundamental agreement and where we might have differences.

I think, at our core, though, we share a strategic purpose. And I think we want to reaffirm that at the summit.

Hi, Anne.

Q Hi. Thanks for doing this. So I want to ask a little bit about the Olympics.


Q To what degree have you all discussed the safety of the Olympics and the advisability of American athletes participating, especially given the President's own focus on -- on caution and really adhering to coronavirus restrictions himself?

You know, is there a risk of him looking like he's relaxing the rules if he's authorizing sending large groups of American athletes into a hotspot in Tokyo at a time when vaccines there are in short supply?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, look, it's -- it's a great question. And, you know, I think the goal of the President -- he respects and understands what Prime Minister Suga is trying to do by holding an Olympics, you know, without -- largely without, you know, fans in the stands; very much understands the risks and challenges, but also understands Japan- -- Japanese national intent to move forward.

We expect that this is going to come up. I think President Biden is extremely sensitive to Prime Minister Suga's politics on this. I think we still are a couple of months away, fundamentally, from knowing, you know, what the situation will be like. I think, if anything, he's likely to ask the Prime Minister for an update and for his views on how things stand.

But I believe, at a fundamental level, the President is very sympathetic, loves sports, and I think we'll -- we'll likely be in a position that we certainly, in no way, want to -- want to hurt the Japanese efforts. We think the Olympics is a, you know, it's a wonderful tradition. But at the same time, right now, it is probably slightly too early to make a call about what to expect.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, was that everyone? That concludes our call. Friendly reminder that this call was on background, attributed to a "senior administration official," and the contents are embargoed until 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, tonight.

Thanks everyone for joining.

2:58 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the Official Working Visit of Japan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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