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Asia-Pacific Allies Speak With Biden As Transition Continues To Move Forward

A billboard supporting the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. is displayed near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on Thursday. The banner at top reads, "Anti-China and Pro-the U.S."
Ahn Young-joon
A billboard supporting the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. is displayed near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on Thursday. The banner at top reads, "Anti-China and Pro-the U.S."

President-elect Joe Biden reassured Asia-Pacific allies of the U.S. commitment to the region in phone calls Wednesday to the leaders of Australia, Japan and South Korea, attempting to allay concerns built up over four years of the Trump administration's America-first policy.

Despite President Trump's baseless insistence that he won the election, Biden's phone conversations with foreign leaders show that key U.S. allies have acknowledged Biden will be the next president.

In summaries of Wednesday's calls on his transition website, Biden stressed strengthening alliances with all three countries' leaders, while addressing each nation's particular concerns.

For example, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan told reporters that Biden had assured him that the U.S. remains committed to defending the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, as part of a five-decade-old U.S.-Japan bilateral security treaty.

Japan administers the islands, but China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands, also claims them and, according to Japan, has sailed coast guard vessels near the islands for more than 280 days this year, setting a new record.

But Biden's website made no mention of the Senkakus, suggesting that he was avoiding confrontation with China over the issue. In addition, his published remarks contain none of the Trump administration's provocative code words, such as protecting the "free and open Indo-Pacific" and the "rules-based international order," phrases that are widely understood to refer to a strategy of containing China.

Biden says he told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he looks forward to working with him on challenges including North Korea and climate change.

North Korean state media have made no mention of Biden's electoral victory, and Biden has suggested he will take a more cautious approach to dealing with the North's leader Kim Jong Un than Trump, who met with Kim three times, has been.

Biden's office said he told Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that he looked forward to working with him on containing the coronavirus and addressing climate change, among other challenges.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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