Asia looms in Biden administration’s first foreign policy trip

Matthew Lee
Associated Press

Washington — Threats from China and North Korea will loom large over the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip abroad, part of a larger effort to bolster U.S. influence and calm concerns about America’s role in Asia.

A senior administration official said Saturday that U.S. officials have tried to reach out to North Korea through multiple channels since last month, but have yet to receive a response. That makes consultations with the reclusive country’s neighbors, Japan, South Korea and China, all the more critical.

State Secretary Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are heading to Japan and South Korea for four days of talks starting Monday as the new administration tries to shore up partnerships with the two key regional allies. Blinken and Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will meet with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday.

The trip is intended to restore what Biden hopes will be a calming and even-keeled approach to ties with Tokyo and Seoul after four years of transactional and often temperamental relations under Donald Trump. He had upended diplomatic norms by meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Blinken and Austin also plan virtual meetings with journalists, civil-society members and others. After reassuring their counterparts of U.S. commitments to Japanese and South Korean security, they plan to focus on an increasingly assertive China, the nuclear challenge from North Korea and the coronavirus pandemic.

In his first months in office, Biden has signaled his desire to return the Asia-Pacific to the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. In keeping with his broader “America is back” diplomatic theme, Biden has pledged to keep stability in the region at the core of his international initiatives.

Although China is not on Blinken’s itinerary, after wrapping up the stop in Seoul, he will fly back to Washington via Anchorage, Alaska, where he and Sullivan, will meet senior Chinese officials. Austin will go from Seoul to New Delhi for meetings with Indian leaders.