WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed in a virtual meeting on Friday (Jan 21) to boost cooperation on pressing economic and security issues, including China's growing might, North Korea's missiles and Russia's aims in Ukraine.
The online meeting, the first substantial talks since Kishida became Japan's prime minister in October followed this month's so-called "two-plus-two" discussions at which defense and foreign ministers from the longtime allies pledged increased cooperation against efforts to destabilise the Indo-Pacific region.
After the meeting, which lasted just under an hour and a half, Kishida said they had agreed to cooperate to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific, to work closely on China and the North Korean missile issue and also to cooperate on Ukraine.
Kishida also said Japan would host a meeting of the Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India in the first half of this year with Biden visiting.
He said they also agreed to set up an economic version of a "two plus two" meeting at the ministerial level to promote Japan-US economic cooperation.
In a tweet, Biden said it was "an honor to meet with Prime Minister Kishida to further strengthen the US-Japan Alliance — the cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the world."
North Korea fired tactical guided missiles this week in its latest of a series of missile and warned on Thursday it might rethink a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
The White House had said the leaders would discuss economic and security matters, emerging technology, cybersecurity, climate change and other bilateral issues.
The Biden administration has been criticised for lacking a solid economic pillar to its strategy for Asia after then-President Donald Trump in 2017 quit a regional trade framework now known as CPTPP.
A senior US policy official for China said on Wednesday that Washington aims to establish "common goals" on economic cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries in early 2022.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday the aim was "to further strengthen the US-Japan alliance" and ensure "a free and open Indo-Pacific" - language used to describe US efforts to push back against China.
The talks follow other security-related meetings involving Indo-Pacific leaders - two-plus-two talks between Japan and France on Thursday and between Australian and British foreign and defense ministers on Friday.
China has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it claims as its own.
Japan will beef up its defenses of islands near Taiwan, Kishida said this week, following a promise in October to revise security strategy so as to consider "all options, including possession of so-called enemy-strike capabilities."
Messaging on China becomes all the more important as Biden and Kishida both face elections this year, for Japan's upper house of parliament in July and the US midterm congressional elections in November.