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U.S., Japanese leaders apparently agree to take hard line toward China 

All national dailies reported extensively on the first teleconference between President Biden and Prime Minister Suga early Thursday morning. The two leaders reportedly discussed a range of security issues, such as the U.S. commitment to extending the “nuclear umbrella” to Japan and the application of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security treaty to the Senkaku Islands. As they also agreed to promote the free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative, the papers stressed that the U.S. and Japanese leaders are in sync on firmly dealing with China’s hegemonic ambitions. According to the articles, the Japanese side was particularly pleased that the President mentioned the phrase FOIP, hence demonstrating his administration’s policy of pursuing the strategy in partnership with the other Quad members. Yomiuri claimed that while some members of the Biden administration were initially negative about endorsing the FOIP vision in the belief that it was a Trump initiative, the Japanese side has explained that it was first conceived by the former Abe administration.  


Mainichi said that while the Japanese side felt reassured that the Biden administration intends to strengthen the bilateral alliance and focus on Asia with the goal of deterring China, the Suga administration may need to make careful policy adjustments when it comes to dealing with the Korean Peninsula. As Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sakai, who sat in on the session, refused to provide details to the press on what was discussed between the two leaders on South Korea, the daily conjectured that the U.S. leader may have asked the premier to improve ties with Seoul. While noting that President Biden is apparently committed to promoting the FOIP initiative to rein in China, Sankei voiced concern that U.S. military pressure on the PLA may weaken as the U.S. leader will need to enlist Beijing’s cooperation in combating climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.  


Nikkei speculated that not much attention was given to economic issues during the teleconference because the primary topics of discussion were security and climate change. The paper added that the President appears to be extremely keen to take the lead in addressing global warming and has already launched various ambitious policy initiatives on this front, such as the convening of a climate change summit in late April and introducing “carbon pricing.” The daily projected that the Suga administration may run into difficulties taking a concerted approach with the Biden administration on environmental issues because some in Japanese business circles are cautious about taking drastic measures to reduce CO2 emissions. Asahi said Suga was anxious to build a personal bond with the U.S. leader, asking him during the teleconference to call him “Yoshi” and going on to say: “May I call you Joe?” While Suga is hoping to visit the U.S. at an early date to meet with the President in person, the U.S. side has reportedly explained to the Japanese side that hosting a foreign leader would be difficult in February.   


Meanwhile, Nikkei wrote that the first Biden-Suga teleconference started just after midnight Tokyo time, which was extremely unusual from a Japanese viewpoint, explaining that past phone conversations between the U.S. and Japanese leaders were generally held in the morning Tokyo time (late evening Washington time). The daily speculated that the U.S. side may have taken into account the health of the “elderly” President amid the COVID-19 pandemic when it arranged the Biden-Suga session just before 11 a.m. Washington time. 

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