By Trevor Hunnicutt, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON/SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – Joe Biden will visit Japan and South Korea on his first trip to Asia as U.S. president, sending a clear message to China, advisers and analysts say – no don’t try what Russia did in Ukraine anywhere in Asia, especially not in Taiwan.
Biden leaves for the five-day trip on Thursday, after spending several months organizing allies to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation.”
He is meeting new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, leaders who share concerns about North Korea and China and are eager to strengthen their long alliances with Washington.
“Essentially, this (trip) is to build the network of alliances in East Asia,” in part to counter any Chinese action against Taiwan, said Evan Medeiros, an Asia specialist in the Barack Obama administration.
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The sweeping sanctions that Biden has carried out against Russia would not be so simple against Beijing. China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and the biggest source of goods Japan imports, beating in each case the no. 2 United States by a wide margin.
To complicate Biden’s message, his administration has not outlined a plan to counter Beijing if it decides to retake the self-governing island of Taiwan, even as US intelligence sees preparations underway.
Likewise, there is little public strategy to counter Beijing’s no-COVID lockdown policy that some economists say could trigger a global recession.
Even with these shortcomings, support for Washington from Seoul and Tokyo is stronger than in recent history.
“The president is lucky to have his counterparts,” said Michael Green, an Asia scholar at the Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I was doing the math on this, and it’s been at least 20 years since an American president could go to Japan and Korea and count on the leaders of both countries to be so outspokenly pro-alliance.”
Biden is expected to offer deeper collaboration with allies on a slew of technology initiatives, highlight new public-private partnerships to ease supply chain constraints, and support South Korean and Japanese initiatives to modernize their communications capabilities. defense and develop an offensive military capability.
He will not visit the demilitarized zone that borders North Korea, and the administration is offering no new ideas on how to handle the strained relationship, analysts say. North Korea has dropped the freeze on intercontinental ballistic missile testing and may soon resume nuclear testing.
North Korea also recently revealed it was grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak, but ignored calls to return to diplomacy, appearing unwilling to accept outside help, even from China.
In Japan, Biden will meet the prime ministers of the other three members of the “Quad” group: Kishida of Japan, Narendra Modi of India and whoever wins what is expected to be a close election in Australia on Saturday.
Although not a military alliance like NATO for Europe, Washington sees the loose grouping as the key to cementing pro-democracy values. Biden will emphasize cooperation on COVID vaccines, humanitarian assistance, infrastructure development as well as climate, space and cybersecurity.
Both Kishida and Biden are expected to take a light touch with Modi over what Washington sees as India’s lukewarm response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In Japan, Biden will also launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a partnership encouraging cross-border dialogue and investment related to trade, supply chain resilience, infrastructure, decarbonization, and fiscal and anti-corruption measures. .
But what Asian countries want most – better access to hundreds of millions of American consumers, as agreed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Donald Trump scrapped in 2017 – will not be part of the deal.
Kishida is expected to pressure Biden to join that deal, Japanese officials and analysts have said.
(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Editing by Heather Timmons and Lincoln Feast.)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.