U.S. President-elect Joe Biden assured the leaders of Japan and South Korea of his commitment to alliances with the two Asian nations in phone calls on Thursday morning, signaling that he will pursue a markedly different strategy from Donald Trump.
Biden told Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that the security treaty between the two countries covers East China Sea islands also claimed by China. In a separate call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to defending South Korea and resolving North Korea nuclear issues together, calling the country a “linchpin” for regional security.
Both Tokyo and Seoul are in talks with the U.S. about the so-called “host-nation support” they pay for tens of thousands of U.S. troops based on their territory. Trump has pressed both allies for far more money, using the threat of cutting troop numbers as leverage. Biden said in an article he contributed to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency last month that he wouldn’t “extort” Seoul.
Last month the U.S. for the first time withheld its commitment to maintaining troop levels in South Korea after a defense chiefs’ meeting, as the two sides remained at odds over funding demands.
Suga told reporters Biden gave assurances on their security treaty and that they agreed to meet as soon as possible and to work together on a range of issues, including the coronavirus. He said he told Biden he wanted to strengthen the alliance and cooperate on the security of the Indo-Pacific region.
Japan seeks to reconfirm the scope of the 1960 security treaty every time the U.S. picks a new leader. Article Five of the treaty obliges both parties to “act to meet the common danger” in the event of an armed attack on either party in territory administered by Japan. The U.S. recognizes the disputed islands as administered by Japan, rather than saying they are part of the country.
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Chinese and Japanese government vessels constantly chase one another around the islands, which are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
The Diaoyu and its affiliated islands are China’s inherent territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday. “The U.S.-Japan security treaty is a product of the Cold War. It should not undermine the interests of any third party or the regional peace and stability.”
Like other leaders of major democracies, Suga and Moon went ahead with the calls despite the fact that Trump continues to dispute the results of the election. Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, was the first leader of a major country to meet Trump after his 2016 election, flying to New York for talks before he was inaugurated.
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan adopted a pacifist constitution that only allows for defensive weapons. The country relies on the U.S. for a nuclear deterrent against regional adversaries, including China and North Korea.