Trans-Pacific View | Diplomacy

Leaders of America’s Asian Allies Call President-Elect Biden

The leaders of South Korea, Japan, and Australia all called the former vice president to discuss future cooperation on issues like the pandemic and climate change.

By Kim Tong-hyung, Rod McGuirk, and Mari Yamaguchi for
Leaders of America’s Asian Allies Call President-Elect Biden
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Gage Skidmore

World leaders spoke to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday about cooperating on the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and other issues, even as President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede complicates the U.S. post-election transition.

In his conversations with key Asian allies, Biden seemed intent on easing their uncertainties about a less-engaged Washington, which built up during the four years of Trump’s “America First” approach.

A look at their conversations:

South Korea

The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Biden during their 14-minute call reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea and said he would closely coordinate with Seoul in a push to defuse a nuclear standoff with North Korea.

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Biden’s office said he expressed his desire to strengthen the U.S.-South Korea alliance as a “linchpin of security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.” Biden also praised Moon for South Korea’s gains in its anti-virus campaign and discussed cooperation over a global economic recovery and the countries’ “mutual interest in strengthening democracy,” his office said.

Kang Min-seok, Moon’s spokesperson, said the leaders also agreed to meet “possibly soon” after Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Moon, who has ambitions for inter-Korean engagement, helped set up Trump’s leader-to-leader nuclear diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which has now stalled over disagreements in exchanging a release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.

But Seoul also struggled to deal with an unconventional U.S. president who saw much less value in alliances than his predecessors did. Trump has constantly complained about the cost of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea. A cost-sharing agreement expired in 2019 and the two sides have failed to agree on a replacement.

In an op-ed to South Korea’s Yonhap News ahead of the election, Biden vowed to strengthen the alliance, rather than “extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops.”

Australia

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he invited Biden to Australia next year to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the countries’ shared defense treaty. Morrison said he and Biden during their call made clear their commitment to strengthening the bilateral alliance.

“We agreed that there was no more critical time for both this alliance between ourselves and the United States, but, more broadly, the working together, especially of like-minded countries and values that we hold and share, working together to promote peace, and stability of course in the Indo-Pacific region,” Morrison told reporters.

Biden said he looked forward to working closely Morrison “on many common challenges, including containing the COVID-19 pandemic and guarding against future global health threats; confronting climate change; laying the groundwork for the global economic recovery; strengthening democracy, and maintaining a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” according to his office.

Australia is taking part in large-scale military exercises with the United States, Japan, and India this month for the first time since 2007.

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Australia withdrew from the annual Exercise Malabar after the 2007 naval drills over concerns about relations with China. But relations between Australia and its biggest trading partner have since deteriorated, with Beijing refusing to take calls from Australian government ministers even while sharply restricting imports of Australian commodities.

Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said he and Biden during their call reaffirmed the importance of their countries’ alliances and agreed to further deepen it in face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

“We had a very meaningful telephone conversation as I will work with President-elect Biden to push forward measures to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Suga told reporters after speaking to Biden on the phone for about 15 minutes.

Biden’s office said the leaders “spoke about their shared commitment to tackle climate change, strengthen democracy around the world, and reinforce the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of a prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific region.”

Suga said he told Biden that Japan wants to pursue the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” a vision that it has been promoting with the United States to include “like-minded” countries in the region, including Australia, India, and Southeast Asian countries that share concerns about China.

China has built and militarized man-made islands in the South China Sea and is pressing its claim to virtually all of the sea’s key fisheries and waterways. Japan is concerned about China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea.

China has denied it is expansionist and said it is only defending its territorial rights.

Suga said Biden gave him reassurance that Washington is committed to protecting Japan’s territorial rights to the Senkakus under the bilateral security pact in case of military clash.

AP writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea; Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia; and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.