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UPDATE 7-Blinken warns China against 'coercion and aggression' on first Asia trip

Global Mar 16, 2021 18:10
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* Talks center on China in the East and South China Seas
* North Korea a sharp focus for Washington
* Pyongyang warns Biden against "causing a stink"
* Blinken set to meet China officials on Thursday

(Adds China reaction, comments on North Korea, human rights)
By Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park
TOKYO, March 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony
Blinken warned China on Tuesday against using "coercion and
aggression" as he sought to use his first trip abroad to shore
up Asian alliances in the face of growing assertiveness by
Beijing.
China's extensive territorial claims in the East and South
China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy
Sino-U.S. relationship and are an important security concern for
Japan.
"We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion
and aggression to get its way," Blinken said.
His visit to Tokyo with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is
the first overseas visit by top members of President Joe Biden's
cabinet. It follows last week's summit of the leaders of the
Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.
Blinken's comments come ahead of meetings in Alaska on
Thursday that will bring together for the first time senior
Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts to
discuss frayed ties between the world's top two economies.
Washington has criticised what it called Beijing's attempts
to bully neighbors with competing interests. China has denounced
what it called U.S. efforts to foment unrest in the region and
interfere in what it calls its internal affairs.
In the statement issued with their Japanese counterparts,
Blinken and Austin said, "China's behavior, where inconsistent
with the existing international order, presents political,
economic, military and technological challenges to the alliance
and to the international community."
The two countries committed themselves to opposing coercion
and destabilizing behavior towards others in the region that
undermines the rules-based international system, they added.
The meeting was held in the "2+2" format with Japanese
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo
Kishi as hosts.
North Korea was in sharp focus after the White House said
Pyongyang had rebuffed efforts at dialogue.
The isolated nation, which has pursued nuclear and missile
programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions,
warned the Biden administration against "causing a stink" if it
wanted peace, state media said on Tuesday. Blinken underscored the importance of working closely with
Japan and South Korea on the denuclearization of North Korea.
"We have no greater strategic advantage when it comes to
North Korea than this alliance," he said. "We approach that
challenge as an alliance and we've got to do that if we are
going to be effective."

'UNWAVERING COMMITMENT'
The ministers also discussed Washington's "unwavering
commitment" to defend Japan in its dispute with China over
islets in the East China Sea and repeated their opposition to
China's "unlawful" maritime claims in the South China Sea.
They also shared concerns over developments such as the law
China passed in January allowing its coast guard to fire on
foreign vessels.
China has sent coast guard vessels to chase away fishing
vessels from countries with which it has disputes in regional
waters, sometimes resulting in their sinking.
Motegi said China-related issues took up the majority of his
two-way talks with Blinken, and expressed strong opposition to
the neighbour's "unilateral attempt" to change the status quo in
the East and South China Seas.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian
told a regular news briefing that U.S.-Japan ties "shouldn't
target or undermine the interests of any third party," and
should boost "peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific".
Blinken expressed concern over the Myanmar military's
attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election, and
its crackdown on peaceful protesters.
He also reaffirmed Washington's commitment to human rights,
adding, "China uses coercion and aggression to systematically
erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan,
abusing human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet."
Motegi said Blinken expressed support during the meeting for
the staging of the Tokyo Olympics, set to run from July 23 to
Aug. 8 after being postponed from last year because of the
coronavirus crisis.
But Blinken sounded non-committal in his remarks to
Tokyo-based U.S. diplomats, saying the summer Games involved
planning for several different scenarios. But he added,
"Whenever and however Team USA ends up competing, it will be
because of you."
The U.S. officials ended the visit with a courtesy call on
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is set to visit the White
House in April as the first foreign leader to meet Biden.
Both will leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday for talks in
the South Korean capital until Thursday.

UPDATE 7-Blinken warns China against 'coercion and aggression' on first Asia trip
 

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