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Biden Eyes China Amid SKorea,Japan Trip05/19 06:19

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden departs on a six-day trip to South 
Korea and Japan aiming to build rapport with the two nations' leaders while 
also sending an unmistakable message to China: Russia's faltering invasion of 
Ukraine should give Beijing pause about its own saber-rattling in the Pacific.

   Biden departs Thursday and is set to meet newly elected South Korean 
President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Their talks 
will touch on trade, increasing resilience in the global supply chain, growing 
concerns about North Korea's nuclear program and the explosive spread of 
COVID-19 in that country.

   While in Japan, Biden will also meet with fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific 
strategic alliance known as the Quad, a group that includes Australia, India 
and Japan.

   The U.S. under Biden has forged a united front with democratic allies that 
has combined their economic heft to make Russia pay a price for its invasion of 
Ukraine. That alliance includes South Korea and Japan. But even as Biden is to 
be feted by Yoon at a state dinner and hold intimate conversations with 
Kishida, the U.S. president knows those relationships need to be deepened if 
they're to serve as a counterweight to China's ambitions.

   "We think this trip is going to put on full display President Biden's 
Indo-Pacific strategy and then it will show in living color, the United States 
can at once lead the free world in responding to Russia's war in Ukraine, and 
that at the same time chart a course for effective, principled American 
leadership and engagement in a region that will define much of the future of 
the 21st century," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

   The war in eastern Europe has created a sense of urgency about China among 
major U.S. allies in the Pacific. Many have come to see the moment as their own 
existential crisis -- one in which it's critical to show China it should not 
try to seize contested territory through military action.

   Biden's overseas travel comes as he faces strong domestic headwinds: an 
infant formula shortage, budget-busting inflation, a rising number of COVID-19 
infections, and increasing impatience among a Democratic base bracing for a 
U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is likely to result in a roll back of abortion 
rights.

   The conundrums Biden faces in Asia are no less daunting.

   China's military assertiveness has grown over the course of Biden's 
presidency, with its provocative actions frequently putting the region on edge.

   Last month, China held military drills around Taiwan after a group of U.S. 
lawmakers arrived for talks on the self-governed island. Late last year China 
stepped up sorties into Taiwan's air space. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign 
state, but Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has not ruled out 
the use of force to achieve unification.

   Japan has reported frequent intrusions by China's military vessels into 
Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. 
The uninhabited islets are controlled by Japan but claimed by China, which 
calls them Diaoyu.

   Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday criticized what he called 
negative moves by Washington and Tokyo against Beijing during a video call with 
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

   "What arouses attention and vigilance is the fact that, even before the 
American leader has set out for the meeting, the so-called joint Japan-U.S. 
anti-China rhetoric is already kicking up dust," Wang said, according to 
China's Foreign Ministry.

   Meanwhile, South Korea could tilt closer to the U.S. under Yoon, who took 
office last week. The new South Korean president has criticized his predecessor 
as "subservient" to China by seeking to balance the relationships with 
Washington and Beijing. To neutralize North Korea's nuclear threats, Yoon has 
pledged to seek a stronger U.S. security commitment.

   The Biden administration has warned China against assisting Russia in its 
war with Ukraine. In March, the U.S. informed Asian and European allies that 
American intelligence determined that China had signaled to Russia a 
willingness to provide military support and financial backing to reduce the 
blow of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.

   Biden administration officials say that the Russian invasion has been a 
clarifying moment for some of the bigger powers in Asia as financial sanctions 
and export bans have been put in place to check Russia.

   U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, Biden's top envoy to Japan, said the Japanese 
have stood out by rallying eight of 10 members of Association of Southeast 
Nations to back a U.N. vote against the Russian invasion.

   "Japan has been a pacesetter that has picked up and set the pace for South 
Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and others here in the Indo Pacific 
area," Emanuel said of Tokyo's support of Ukraine following the Russian 
invasion.

   Biden, who is making his first presidential trip to Asia, met Kishida 
briefly on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference last year shortly after 
the Japanese prime minister took office. He has yet to meet with Yoon 
face-to-face. The South Korean leader, a former prosecutor who came to office 
without political or foreign policy experience, was elected in a closely fought 
election.

   Biden arrives in the midst of an unfolding crisis in North Korea, where a 
mass COVID-19 outbreak is spreading through its unvaccinated population. North 
Korea acknowledged domestic COVID-19 infections for the first time last week, 
ending a widely doubted claim it had been virus-free.

   In recent months, North Korea has test-launched a spate of missiles in what 
experts see as an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure its rivals to 
accept the country as a nuclear state and relax their sanctions.

   Sullivan said U.S. intelligence officials have determined there's a "genuine 
possibility" that North Korea will conduct another ballistic missile test or 
nuclear test around the time of Biden's visit to Asia.

   To be certain, China will also be carefully watching for "cracks in the 
relationship" during Biden's trip, said Scott Kennedy, a China economic analyst 
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

   Sullivan confirmed that Biden will use the trip to launch the 
long-anticipated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a proposed pact to set rules 
for trade and digital standards, ensuring reliable supply chains, worker 
protections, decarbonization and tax and anticorruption issues. Known as IPEF, 
it's a planned substitute for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President 
Donald Trump left in 2017 and that the Biden administration has not rejoined.

   In terms of economic power, the U.S. slightly lags China in the Pacific, 
according to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank. But the institute's 
analysis shows the possibility that a trade pact could magnify the combined 
power of the U.S. and its allies relative to China. Biden's challenge is that 
IPEF would not necessarily cut tariff rates or give allied signatories greater 
access to U.S. markets, something Asian countries seek.

   Biden and his fellow leaders also have their own national interests and 
differences over what it means to strengthen supply chains that have been 
rattled by the coronavirus pandemic.

   The Democratic president says the U.S. must increase computer chip 
production on American soil. The shortage has fueled inflation by delaying 
production of autos, life-saving medical devices, smartphones, video game 
consoles, laptops and other modern conveniences. Yet allies in Asia are talking 
about the need to expand their capacity for making semiconductors -- a valuable 
export -- in their own countries.

 
 
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