Biden, Suga Hold 'Serious Talks' on China After Beijing Warns Japan to Stand Aside

President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had "serious talks" about China hours after the country warned Japan not to escalate hostilities over a disputed territory.

Biden and Suga met at the White House on Friday, Biden's first in-person meeting with a foreign leader since becoming president. While many issues were discussed, the meeting was said to include a discussion on "the impact of China's actions on peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world," with the leaders sharing their "concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including the use of economic and other forms of coercion."

"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," Biden said at a press conference following the meeting. "We're committed to defending and advancing our shared values, including human rights and the rule of law."

Biden Suga Japan China Territorial Dispute Islands
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2021. Doug Mills/Getty

Shortly before the meeting, China warned Japan to not use the talks to inflame a dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan has long controlled and calls the Senkaku Islands. At the White House press conference, Suga said that the leaders "had serious talks on China's influence over the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific and the world at large."

"We agreed to oppose any attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas, and intimidation of others in the region," said Suga. "At the same time, we agreed on the necessity for each of us to engage in frank dialogue with China. And, in so doing, to pursue stability of international relations, while upholding universal values."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the "Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islets are China's inherent territory, and China is determined and resolved in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty" at a press conference on the same day. Zhao demanded that Japan "honor its four-point principled agreement with China, effectively strengthen internal control and prevent the situation from deteriorating and escalating."

Although the extent to which the islands were discussed during Suga and Biden's meeting is unclear, Suga briefly mentioned the islands during the press conference and both leaders said that they would oppose actions that "undermine Japan's administration" of the territory.

"The United States restated its unwavering support for Japan's defense under the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear," Biden and Suga said in a joint statement after the meeting. "It also reaffirmed the fact that Article V of the Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands. Together, we oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan's administration of the Senkaku Islands."

The disputed islands are an uninhabited archipelago located near Taiwan in the East China Sea. Japan has controlled the islands for most of the time since the late 19th century, with the U.S. having control for a 27-year period following World War II. China claims that it discovered the island group centuries ago and began asserting sovereignty a few years after natural resources were discovered there in the late 1960s.

Newsweek reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment.