Suga, Biden agree to strengthen Japan-US alliance in phone talks

Yoshihide Suga. PHOTO: REUTERS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TOKYO, Nov 12, 2020, Kyodo. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday agreed to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and work together on battling the coronavirus pandemic and climate change in their first phone talks, Kyodo News reported.

Speaking to reporters after the roughly 10-minute conversation, Suga said he congratulated Biden on winning last week’s election against incumbent President Donald Trump and conveyed his desire to cooperate to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region.

“The alliance is crucial amid the increasingly difficult security environment surrounding Japan, as well as for the peace and prosperity of the international community,” the prime minister said.

Biden affirmed Washington’s commitment to defending the Senkaku Islands under a 1960 bilateral security treaty, Suga said. The group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, which calls them Diaoyu and often sends coast guard ships nearby in an attempt to assert control.

The president-elect, a veteran politician who served as vice president under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, “underscored his deep commitment to the defense of Japan and U.S. commitments under Article 5,” his team said in a statement.

In 2014, Obama became the first U.S. president to publicly state that the Senkakus fall under the security treaty.

Suga is seen to be eager to establish a relationship with Biden, who will become commander-in-chief of Japan’s key ally at a time of growing Chinese maritime assertiveness and concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The prime minister said he asked for support for Japan’s efforts to retrieve citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

The two also agreed to work together to tackle global issues including COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.2 million people around the world, and climate change, Suga said.

Biden has vowed to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and he and Suga are both aiming to make their countries carbon neutral by 2050.

Suga said he agreed with Biden to meet in person “as soon as possible,” with government sources saying the prime minister is likely to visit the United States after the president-elect takes office on Jan. 20.

Biden has already held phone talks with a number of world leaders including those from Britain, Canada, France and Germany. On Thursday, he also spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and South Korean President Moon Jae In.

Major U.S. media outlets called last week’s election for Biden after he surpassed the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes.

Trump, however, is contesting results in several states and has yet to concede.

Suga on Sunday tweeted his congratulations to Biden and running mate Kamala Harris, who will become the first female U.S. vice president, joining other world leaders in recognizing their win as legitimate.

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