US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China on Tuesday against using “coercion and aggression” as he tried to use his first trip abroad to fight Asian alliances in the face of Beijing’s growing confidence.
China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testing relationship between China and the United States and are a major security issue for Japan.
“We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way,” Blinken said.
His visit to Tokyo with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is the first overseas visit by top members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet. This follows last week’s summit with the leaders of the Quad grouping in the USA, Japan, Australia and India.
Blinken’s comments come ahead of meetings in Alaska on Thursday that will, for the first time, bring together leading officials in Biden and their Chinese counterparts to discuss torn ties between the world’s two best economies.
Washington has criticized what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbors with competing interests. China has condemned what it called the United States’ efforts to promote unrest in the region and interfere in what it calls its internal affairs.
In a statement with its Japanese counterparts, Blinken and Austin said, “China’s behavior, which is incompatible with the existing international order, poses political, economic, military and technological challenges to the Alliance and the international community.”
The two countries have pledged to oppose coercive and destabilizing behavior towards others in the region that undermine the rules-based international system, they added.
The meeting was held in the format “2 + 2” with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as hosts.
North Korea was in sharp focus after the White House said Pyongyang had rejected efforts for dialogue.
The isolated nation, which has been pursuing nuclear and missile programs in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, warned the Biden administration against “causing a stink” if it wanted peace, state media said on Tuesday.
Blinken emphasized the importance of working close to Japan and South Korea for the core of North Korea.
“We have no greater strategic advantage over North Korea than this alliance,” he said. “We are approaching that challenge as an alliance and we must do it if we are to be effective.”
Ministers also discussed Washington’s “unwavering commitment” to defend Japan in its dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea and reiterated its opposition to China’s “illegal” maritime claims in the South China Sea.
They also shared concerns about developments such as the law passed by China in January that allows its coastguard to fire at foreign ships.
China has sent coastguard vessels to chase away fishing vessels from countries with which it has disputes in regional waters, which sometimes results in them sinking.
Motegi said China-related issues raised the majority of its two-way talks with Blinken and expressed strong opposition to the neighbor’s “unilateral attempt” to change the status quo in eastern and southern China.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told regular news outlets that US-Japan ties “should not target or undermine the interests of any third party” and should increase “peace and stability in Asia and the Pacific.”
Blinken expressed concern over the Myanmar military’s attempt to repeal the results of a democratic election and its violence against peaceful protesters.
He also reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to human rights and added: “China is using coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undermine democracy in Taiwan and abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
Motegi said Blinken expressed support during the meeting for the staging of the Tokyo Olympics, which will run from July 23 to August 8 after being postponed from last year due to the coronavirus crisis.
But Blinken sounded non-existent in his comments to Tokyo-based US diplomats, saying that the summer games involved planning for several different scenarios. But he added: “When and how Team USA finally competes, it will depend on you.”
US officials ended the visit with a courtesy to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who will visit the White House in April as the first foreign leader to meet Biden.
Both leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday for talks in the South Korean capital until Thursday.