President Joe Biden is dispatching White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to Tokyo this week for talks with his counterparts from Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea.
Sullivan will also take part in “the first-ever trilateral meeting of the Japanese, Philippine, and U.S. national security advisers” while in Japan, the White House National Security Council said in a statement Tuesday.
The White House offered scant details about Sullivan’s two-day visit that begins Thursday, saying Sullivan and his counterparts “will discuss ways to deepen collaboration on a number of key regional and global issues.”
Sullivan’s visit comes after U.S., Japanese, and Philippine coast guard ships staged law enforcement drills in waters near the disputed South China Sea earlier this month. Washington has stepped up efforts to reinforce alliances in Asia amid an increasingly tense rivalry with China.
Washington lays no claims to the strategic South China Sea, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysian, Taiwan, and Brunei have been locked in tense territorial stand-offs for decades. But the United States says freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of disputes in the busy waterway are in its national interest.
The White House confirmed Sullivan’s travels after Biden referred to the trip during a reception at the White House for U.S. chiefs of diplomatic missions on Tuesday. The U.S. president made an off-hand remark that Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. envoy to Japan, was not on hand because he was getting ready for Sullivan’s visit.
China-U.S. relations have been strained throughout Biden’s tenure. China launched military exercises last year around Taiwan after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the democratically governed island that China claims as its own.
Relations became further strained early this year after the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had crossed the United States. Beijing also was angered by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s stopover in the U.S. in April that included an engagement with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
And on Saturday, the White House confirmed that China has been operating a spy base in Cuba for some time, and that it was upgraded in 2019 under the Trump administration’s watch.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday said that the Trump administration had the “same access” to intelligence about China’s spying operations as the Biden administration did.
Former Trump administration officials, including former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and National Security Advisor John Bolton, have pushed back against the assertion that the Cuba spy base was upgraded under their watch.
“The (Biden) administration claims that the base was there in 2019 if not before. All I can say is, I was in the White House for part of 2019 [and] I was certainly unaware of it,” Bolton said in an interview on Tuesday with SiriusXM’s POTUS channel. “I think I would have remembered it if it crossed my desk.”
The White House confirmed the base after the Wall Street Journal reported last week that China and Cuba had reached an agreement in principle to build an electronic eavesdropping station on the island.
Despite the tensions with Beijing, the administration has been eager to restart high-level communications with Beijing.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is planning a visit China on June 18 to meet with senior officials, both the U.S. and Chinese governments confirmed on Wednesday. Blinken was scheduled to visit China in February, but those talks were scrapped after the spy balloon incident.
Notably, Sullivan’s visit to Japan will edge out Blinken’s China trip, allowing Washington to coordinate with its allies before discussions with Beijing.
Sullivan is currently in India meeting with officials ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington next week.
He held talks on Tuesday with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, that focused on potential U.S.-Indian collaboration on artificial intelligence, semiconductors, and defense, according to the Indian Foreign Ministry. Sullivan also addressed a conference of business leaders where he said the United States was keen on doing away with regulatory obstacles that are holding back the two countries from deepening trade in areas like defense and high-tech.