NATIONAL NEWS

Biden meets Japan’s PM Kishida over shared concerns about China and differences on US Steel deal

Apr 8, 2024, 9:04 PM | Updated: Apr 9, 2024, 4:32 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a much-anticipated visit to Washington on Tuesday that spotlights shared concerns about provocative Chinese military action in the Pacific and at a rare moment of public difference between the two nations over a Japanese company’s plan to buy an iconic U.S. company.

Kishida and his wife stopped by the White House Tuesday evening ahead of Wednesday’s official visit and formal state dinner as President Joe Biden looks to celebrate a decades-long ally he sees as the cornerstone of his Indo-Pacific policy. Kishida will be the fifth world leader honored by Biden with a state dinner since he took office in 2021.

The two shook hands and first lady Jill Biden embraced Kishida’s wife, Yuko. The foursome posed for a photo and briefly toured the grounds before heading to an upscale seafood restaurant, BlackSalt, for dinner.

The Bidens were presenting the prime minister with a three-legged table handmade by a Japanese American-owned company in Pennsylvania. The president was also gifting Kishida a custom-framed lithograph and a two-volume LP set autographed by Billy Joel. Jill Biden was giving Yuko Kishida a soccer ball signed by the U.S. women’s national team and the Japanese women’s national team.

Ahead of the White House visit, Kishida laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday and stopped by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and met with Microsoft’s vice chairman and president Brad Smith. Biden and Kishida on Wednesday will hold talks and take part in a joint news conference before Biden fetes the Japanese leader with the state dinner in the East Room.

The prime minister has also been invited to address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday. He will be just the second Japanese leader to address the body; Shinzo Abe gave a speech to Congress in 2015.

The visit comes after Biden announced last month that he opposes the planned sale of Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel to Nippon Steel of Japan, exposing a marked rift in the partnership at the very moment the two leaders aim to reinforce it. Biden argued in announcing his opposition that the U.S. needs to “maintain strong American steel companies powered by American steelworkers.”

Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, Biden’s envoy to Tokyo, sought Monday to downplay the impact of Biden’s opposition to the U.S. Steel acquisition to the relationship. Emanuel noted that in February the Biden administration approved a plan that would drive billions of dollars in revenue to a U.S.-based subsidiary of the Japanese company Mitsui for crane production in the United States.

“The United States relationship with Japan is a lot deeper and stronger and more significant than a single commercial deal,” said Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, in a joint appearance at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies with Japan’s chief envoy to Washington. “As we would say in Chicago, you got to chill.”

Nippon Steel announced in December that it planned to buy U.S. Steel for $14.1 billion in cash, raising concerns about what the transaction could mean for unionized workers, supply chains and U.S. national security. Shigeo Yamada, Japan’s ambassador to Washington, declined to comment on whether Kishida would raise the Nippon-U.S. Steel deal with Biden.

Kishida at the U.S. Chamber said that American investments in Japan and vice versa would make the “economies more deeply tied and inseparable.” Smith, the Microsoft vice chairman, announced that the tech company was investing $2.9 billion in Japan over the next two years to expand its cloud computing and artificial intelligence operations there. Microsoft will be working with the Japanese government to improve its cybersecurity capabilities.

“We see this as a critical investment in every Japanese company that we support and the Japanese government as well,” Smith said.

Biden has sought to place greater foreign policy focus on the Pacific even while grappling with the fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the grinding Israel-Hamas war. Last year, Biden brought together Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, a historic summit between leaders of two countries that have a difficult shared history.

Biden has honored Yoon with a state visit and picked Kishida’s predecessor, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, as the first face-to-face foreign leader visit of his presidency.

The administration has been pleased by Japan’s strong support for Ukraine. Tokyo has been one of the largest donors to Kyiv since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, and Japan has surged its defense spending amid concern about China’s military assertiveness.

Yamada suggested that Kishida would underscore Japan’s support for Ukraine during his appearance before Congress, and lay out why the conflict in Eastern Europe matters to his country. Biden is struggling to get House Republicans to back his call to send an additional $60 billion to Kyiv as it tries to fend off Russia.

Kishida has warned that the war in Europe could lead to conflict in East Asia, suggesting that a lax attitude to Russia emboldens China.

“The prime minister’s conviction is today’s Ukraine could be tomorrow’s East Asia,” Yamada said.

The Pentagon announced on Monday that the U.S., United Kingdom. and Australia were considering including Japan in the AUKUS partnership, a grouping launched in 2021 that aims to equip Australia with nuclear-powered and conventionally-armed submarines.

Beijing has condemned the AUKUS pact, which it says promotes division and could lead to military confrontation in the region. China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday raised objection to Japan’s prospective new role.

Kishida will stick around Washington on Thursday to take part in a meeting with Biden and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Philippine-Chinese relations have been repeatedly tested by skirmishes between the two nations’ coast guard vessels in the disputed South China Sea.

Chinese coast guard ships also regularly approach disputed Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands near Taiwan. Beijing says Taiwan is part of its territory and will be brought under control by force if necessary.

“Cooperation among our three countries is extremely important in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and in defending a free and open international order based on the rules of law,” Kishida said Monday before leaving for Washington.

The leaders are expected to discuss plans to upgrade the U.S. military command structure in Japan. There are about 54,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan the leaders announcements on defense will enable “greater coordination in the integration of our forces and ensure that they are optimally postured and linked to other like-minded partners.”

Kishida and Biden are also expected to confirm Japan’s participation in NASA’s Artemis moon program as well as its contribution of a moon rover developed by Toyota Motor Corp. and the inclusion of a Japanese astronaut in the mission. The rover, which comes at a roughly $2 billion cost, would be the most expensive contribution to the mission by a non-U.S. partner to date.

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Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Josh Boak and Didi Tang in Washington contributed to this report.

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Biden meets Japan’s PM Kishida over shared concerns about China and differences on US Steel deal