President Biden welcomed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan to the White House on Friday, using the first visit by a foreign leader during his presidency to underscore the importance of America’s allies as the United States confronts an increasingly aggressive China.
“Our commitment to meet in person is indicative of the importance, the value we both place on this relationship,” Mr. Biden said during a joint appearance in the Rose Garden with Mr. Suga, pointing out that they had previously held a socially distanced diplomatic visit. “We’re going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century.”
The Japanese were honored by the invitation to the White House and eager for the chance to use it at home to underscore how they are nurturing the alliance 75 years after the end of World War II. For Mr. Biden, the visit was an opportunity to press his counterpart for support in the effort to contain China’s ambitions, both economically and militarily.
Mr. Biden has made it clear that he views Chinese influence around the globe as one of the key challenges of his presidency, and he did not mince words when outlining that shared initiatives on climate, health policy and technology would be in competition with China’s autocratic government.
“Japan and the United States are both deeply invested in innovation and looking to the future,” Mr. Biden said during his appearance with Mr. Suga. “That includes making sure we invest in and protect the technologies that will maintain and sharpen our competitive edge, and that those technologies are governed by shared democratic norms that we both share — norms set by democracies, not autocracies.”
Mr. Biden’s advisers have warned that if the United States does not engage allies in a race to catch up, the results could be disastrous for national security: More and more of the globe’s internet traffic and conversations will flow through circuits controlled by Beijing.
“We’re committed to defending and advancing our shared values, including human rights and the rule of law,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century.”
He then turned the floor over to Mr. Suga, who said the alliance between the United States and Japan had grown more important because of “the current regional situation and the severe security environment.”
As the two leaders fielded a series of questions from reporters, Mr. Biden was asked about gun control in the wake of another mass shooting that left eight dead at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Earlier in the day, Mr. Suga — whose country reports some of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world — expressed his condolences. “Innocent citizens must not be exposed to any such violence,” he said in remarks before a bilateral meeting.
For his part, Mr. Suga was asked about hosting the Olympic Games, scheduled for Tokyo in July, in the midst of a pandemic.
“I told the president about my determination to realize the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer as a symbol of the global unity,” Mr. Suga said. “President Biden once again expressed his support for this determination.”
Climate change was also on the agenda, though Mr. Suga did not promise that Japan would end government funding for the development of coal plants overseas, an announcement the White House was hoping he would make. According to two administration officials, the administration has prodded the Japanese government to cut emissions in half from 2013 levels by the end of the decade.
Next week, Mr. Biden is hosting a virtual summit meeting of 40 world leaders aimed at bolstering global ambition to reduce planet-warming pollution. The Biden administration has also been pressing the Japanese government to stand with the United States in announcing new greenhouse gas emissions pledges.