“I’m expecting the visit will also coincide with the formal launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework initiative,” Tomita said during an online think-tank event, adding that the initiative will be “very important” for the creation of a “free and open” region where China has been increasing its clout.

 

The ambassador also indicated that Japan, a key U.S. ally and major trade partner, is highly involved in preparations for the launch, saying, “We are now trying to flesh out the ideas to be contained in this initiative.”

 

The Biden administration has vowed a launch during the early part of this year for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which it defines as a “new partnership” that will promote high-standards trade, govern the digital economy, improve supply-chain resiliency and catalyze investment in infrastructure, among other issues.

 

It is widely seen as a potential fix for the U.S. absence from major free-trade agreements in the region. But questions remain as to whether the framework can be attractive to Asian economies amid U.S. reluctance to further open up its markets.

Biden is set to make a five-day visit to South Korea and Japan from May 20, in what would become his first trip to Asia since taking office in January last year.

 

During his time in Japan, scheduled to begin May 22, he will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and attend the Quad summit that also involves Australia and India.

 

The Biden administration places value on the partnership of the four major democracies in the Indo-Pacific as it rallies countries to push back against China’s assertiveness in the region.

 

Tomita also said at the event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that Biden’s visit will “establish in very strong terms that Japan and the United States jointly are ready to play a leadership role in the economic and social development of the broader Indo-Pacific region.”

==Kyodo