Biden welcomes Japanese PM as first official foreign visitor

China tops the agenda of bilateral meeting with Yoshihide Suga in Washington

US president Joe Biden  and Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga  take part in an expanded bilateral meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

US president Joe Biden and Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga take part in an expanded bilateral meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

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US president Joe Biden welcomed his first official foreign visitor since his inauguration yesterday, as he hosted Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House.

In a sign of growing efforts by the Biden administration to work with allies to constrain an increasingly muscular Beijing, China topped the agenda of the first bilateral meeting between the two leaders.

Speaking as the meeting began in the State Dining Room at the White House, Mr Biden said that that the Indo-Pacific region should remain “free and open and prosperous”.

Without mentioning China specifically, Mr Suga said the importance of human rights in the Indo-Pacific region had “heightened to an unprecedented level”.

High on the agenda was Taiwan, after China increased provocations against the island in recent days, sending its largest ever contingent of aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone.  

Earlier this week Mr Biden dispatched former senator and close advisor Chris Dodd and two former deputy secretaries of State to Taipei on a three-day visit, as Washington increases its oversight of the region.

China’s human rights abuses against Uighur people in the Xinjiang region as well as its clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong were also expected to be discussed.

Strategic

Speaking ahead of the meeting, a senior administration official conceded that Japan and the United States would have different perspectives on some issues. Japan is a close trading partner of China. But he stressed that the two countries “share general strategic views across Asia and the world.”

Mr Biden described the US and Japan as “two important democracies” in the Indo-Pacific region as the meeting began.

Mr Suga also met with vice-president Kamala Harris and officials earlier in the day. The United States was expected to commit to a multibillion dollar investment into Japanese telecommunications, in a bid to counter the power of Chinese company Huawei.

Meanwhile, ahead of an expected press conference between the two leaders last night, the White House appeared to backtrack on a decision to freeze the number of refugees admitted to the United States at 15,000 – the same cap imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump – following a huge backlash from Democrats.

On Friday, the White House said that the number would be limited to 15,000, but later in the evening the administration stated that a final number would not be agreed until May.

Mr Biden had previously pledged to increase refugee admissions to 60,000 this year.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal circulated a letter signed by dozens of members of congress and addressed to Mr Biden urging him to increase the cap. Ms Omar, the Minnesota congresswoman who emigrated to the United States from Somalia when she was 12, said the decision was “shameful”.

“As a refugee, I know finding a home is a matter of life or death for children around the world,” she said.

The controversy over refugee numbers comes as Mr Biden faces criticism from Republicans about the number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.