Japan, US criticize China in top Biden officials' first trip

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U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, elbow bumps with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, and Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, front, watch after a joint news conference after their two plus two security talks at Iikura Guest House in Tokyo Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Defense and foreign ministers from the U.S. and Japan are meeting to discuss their concern over China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region as the Biden administration tries to reaffirm engagement with its key regional allies.(Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO – Japan and the United States joined forces to criticize China's “coercion and aggression" in Asia as senior ministers from both countries held their first in-person talks since President Joe Biden took office in January.

Aside from the sharp rhetoric aimed at Beijing, the meeting Tuesday in Tokyo and a planned stop next in Seoul are as much an effort by the Biden administration to reassure worried allies in Asia after occasionally confrontational dealings with the Trump administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after holding the so-called “two plus two” security talks with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterparts —Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi — said democracy and human rights are being challenged and the United States will push with its partners for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Blinken said the Biden administration is committed to work with U.S. allies as they face challenges from China and its ally North Korea, which is pursuing an illicit nuclear weapons program.

“We will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way,” he said.

In a joint statement released after the talks, the ministers shared strong worry over Beijing’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, “unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea” and “unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo” over the Japan-controlled East China Sea islands that China also claims. The statement also stressed the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

On the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip abroad, Blinken and Austin also agreed with their Japanese counterparts to cooperate on the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the situation in Myanmar after its military coup.

Earlier Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful sister warned the U.S. to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years. She also criticized the U.S. and South Korea for holding military exercises.