US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to staff at the US State Department during the first visit of US President Joe Biden (left) in Washington, DC, Feb 4, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
WASHINGTON/TOKYO - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Tokyo on Monday, starting a four-day visit to the region, highlighting Washington’s renewed focus on alliances in Indo-Pacific.
The visit, from March 15 to 18, to Tokyo and Seoul is the first overseas trip by top cabinet members of President Joe Biden’s administration and follows last week’s Quad alliance summit of the leaders of the US, Japan, Australia and India.
The visit, from March 15 to 18, to Tokyo and Seoul is the first overseas trip by top cabinet members of President Joe Biden’s administration and follows last week’s Quad alliance summit of the leaders of the US, Japan, Australia and India
The Quad summit pledged to work to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific, a major priority for Tokyo, and cooperate on maritime, cyber and economic security.
“The most important thing that’s going to happen on this trip is that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin are making Japan and Korea (and India for Secretary Austin) the first steps on their first trip to the region,” said Brian Harding, a Southeast Asia expert at the US Institute of Peace.
“So, by touching down in Tokyo, in a lot of ways, it’ll already be successful, and sends an incredibly powerful signal about the priorities of this administration.”
Analysts also expect Tokyo to seek US support for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and follow-up talks on other subjects that figured at the Quad summit, such as the commitment to boost COVID-19 vaccine supplies in Asia and climate change.
The secretaries are expected to make a courtesy call on Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is set to visit the White House as the first foreign leader to meet Biden in April.
Blinken and Austin will meet Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in what is known as the 2+2 talks.
Blinken will also meet business leaders and Japanese journalists.
Both officials will leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday and hold talks with counterparts in the South Korean capital until Thursday.
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