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Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

By David Brunnstrom and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden on Friday sought to present a united front with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to counter an increasingly threatening China as the U.S. leader held his first face-to-face White House summit since taking office.

China topped the agenda, underscoring Japan’s central role in U.S. efforts to face down Beijing. The two leaders addressed an array of geopolitical issues, including Taiwan, with Suga saying they reaffirmed “the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” a slap at Beijing’s increased military pressure on the Chinese-claimed, self-ruled island.

“Today Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for the U.S.-Japanese alliance and for our shared security,” Biden told a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden, calling the discussions “productive.”

“We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific.”

Other pressing concerns at the talks included China’s growing military pressure on Taiwan, its tightening grip on Hong Kong and its crackdown on Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Suga said he and Biden agreed on the necessity of frank discussions with China in the context of Beijing’s activities in the Indo-Pacific region and reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The summit came just days after the Chinese regime sent 25 aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, near Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province.

“I refrain from mentioning details, since it pertains to diplomatic exchanges, but there is already an agreed recognition over the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait between Japan and the United States, which was reaffirmed on this occasion,” Suga said.

In another swipe at China, Biden said the United States and Japan will invest together in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, genomics and semiconductor supply chains.

“Japan and the United States are both deeply invested in innovation and looking to the future,” Biden said. “That includes making sure we invest in and protect technologies that will maintain and sharpen our competitive edge.”

The summit, Biden’s first in-person meeting with a foreign leader as president, was expected to produce a formal statement on Taiwan, a U.S. official said earlier.

It would be the first joint statement on Taiwan by U.S. and Japanese leaders since 1969. However, it appears likely to fall short of what Washington has been hoping from Suga, who inherited a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with economic ties when he took over as premier last September.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that China has expressed solemn concern about what he called “collusion” between Japan and the United States, and the countries should take China’s concerns seriously.

Tokyo Olympics

Suga said he told Biden that he was committed to moving forward with the summer Olympic Games in Japan and that Biden offered his support.

“I told the president about my determination to realize the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games this summer as a symbol of global unity,” Suga said.

With the Suga meeting and another planned summit with South Korea in May, Biden hopes to energize joint efforts with Australia, India and Japan—in a grouping known as the Quad—as well as with South Korea, to counter both China and longtime U.S. foe North Korea.

It requires a delicate balancing act given Japan and South Korea’s economic ties with China and currently frosty relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

The emphasis on Japan’s key status could boost Suga ahead of an election this year, but some politicians are pushing him for a tougher stance towards Beijing as it increases maritime activities in the East and South China Seas and near Taiwan.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and some Japanese lawmakers have said Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, even as Japanese executives worry about a Chinese backlash.

China denies any human rights violations, but Washington says Beijing is perpetrating genocide in Xinjiang.