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Biden treats Japan PM to state visit with eye on China

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcome Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his spouse Yuko Kishida at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, DC
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcome Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his spouse Yuko Kishida at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, DC - Copyright AFP ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcome Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his spouse Yuko Kishida at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, DC - Copyright AFP ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS
Danny KEMP

US President Joe Biden hosts a lavish state visit for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House on Wednesday, featuring a major upgrade in defense ties against China — and music by Paul Simon.

Biden will roll out the red carpet for the 66-year-old Kishida and his wife Yuko to underscore the importance of Japan as a bastion in the Asia-Pacific region against a resurgent Beijing.

Behind the pomp is serious business with the two leaders set to unveil plans to restructure the US military command in Japan — the biggest boost to defense cooperation since the 1960s — to be more responsive to threats.

First Lady Jill Biden, giving a preview of the gala state dinner that the Kishidas will be treated to, said the visit would “celebrate the flourishing friendship between the United States and Japan.” 

“Our nations are partners in a world where we choose creation over destruction, peace over bloodshed, and democracy over autocracy,” she told reporters.

The visit underscores the importance Biden places on building alliances against countries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, in an increasingly uncertain world rocked by wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

Kishida and Biden will give a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden at 12:30 pm (1630 GMT) as they lay out their burgeoning ties.

“We will judge it to be a remarkable and historic summit,” a senior US administration official told reporters ahead of the visit.

On Thursday, Biden will host the first trilateral summit between Japan, the Philippines and the United States, aiming to deepen their alliances in the face of escalating maritime tensions with China.

Hanging over the US and Japanese leaders will be the thorny topic of a Japanese takeover of US Steel, a deal opposed by Biden as he faces a tough reelection battle against protectionist former president Donald Trump.

– ‘Iconic’ –

But US officials have said that they are not expected to discuss the Nippon Steel deal, focusing instead on announcing a raft of deals amid a thickly laid-on protocol.

The Kishidas arrived on Tuesday night and were swiftly whisked to a seafood meal at a swanky Washington restaurant, after the Bidens presented them with gifts including a signed record by US rocker Billy Joel.

On Wednesday, the state dinner will be held in the grand East Room of the White House, decorated by fans and cherry blossom branches.

White House chefs will serve a meal featuring Japanese flavours, starting with house-cured salmon, followed by dry aged rib-eye with wasabi sauce, and salted caramel pistachio cake with cherry ice cream.

After dinner, prominent US singer-songwriter Paul Simon “will perform a selection of his iconic songs”, White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo told reporters.

The concert will end a day that will see Biden and Kishida take a major step forward in defense ties.

The leaders will agree to change the US-Japan command and control structure, which currently sees the 54,000 US military personnel in Japan having to report back to Hawaii, senior US administration officials said.

This would make their two militaries more nimble in a crisis, for example a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, experts said.

They will also agree to deepen cooperation on space and technology.

Kishida is the first Japanese leader to get a US state visit since Shinzo Abe in 2015, and only the fifth world leader to receive one since Biden took office in 2021.

Staunchly pacifist for decades, Japan has in recent years made “some of the most significant, momentous changes” since World War II, US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said ahead of the visit.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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