(Adds Biden arrival, Taiwan details, protests)
By Trevor Hunnicutt and Yoshifumi Takemoto
TOKYO, May 22 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden arrived in Japan on Sunday to launch a plan to boost U.S. economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific, coming under fire even before the program announced, claiming that it would offer little benefit to countries in the region. .
On the second leg of his first trip to Asia as president, Biden is to meet with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the “Quad,” another cornerstone of his strategy to fend off the growing influence of China.
In Tokyo on Monday, Biden will visit Emperor Naruhito before meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He and Kishida are expected to discuss Japan’s plans to expand its military capabilities and reach in response to China’s growing power.
Tokyo will also see the launch of Biden’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) on Monday, a program intended to bind countries in the region more closely through common standards in areas such as supply chain resilience. supply, clean energy, infrastructure and digital. Trade.
Washington has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump quit a multinational trade deal now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the field open to China to extend its influence.
But the IPEF is unlikely to include binding commitments, and Asian countries and trade experts have given a decidedly lukewarm response to a program limited by Biden’s reluctance to risk American jobs by offering the increased market access. that the region needs.
The White House wanted the IPEF announcement to represent a formal start of negotiations with a core group of like-minded countries, but Japan wanted to ensure broader participation to include as many Southeast Asian countries. as possible, business and diplomatic sources said.
Given this, Monday’s ceremony will likely signal an agreement to begin IPEF talks rather than actual negotiations, the sources said.
“Japan wanted as many participants as possible…and also wanted the United States to lead an inclusive post-launch dialogue process,” said a person familiar with the talks.
This source said the launch was to be attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Biden and Kishida in person, and other leaders virtually.
LACK OF INCENTIVES
A Japanese finance ministry official said many Southeast Asian countries would not join IPEF due to the lack of practical incentives such as tariff reductions.
“It’s not a cold but practical decision, probably because it doesn’t really have any meaningful content,” the official said.
However, an Asian diplomat said at least half of the 10 nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could join the launch ceremony.
“It looks like the White House has decided to make the launch of IPEF an open bar party that everyone is invited to, with the real work to start on Monday morning,” said Matthew Goodman, a commerce expert at the Center for Strategic in Washington. and international studies.
“Ultimately, the administration will have to deliver more tangible benefits if it wants to keep countries on board.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One that Taiwan would not participate in the IPEF launch, but that Washington was seeking to deepen economic relations with the autonomous island region on high-level issues. technology, especially on semiconductors. and supply chains.
On Tuesday in Tokyo, Biden will join the second in-person meeting of the Quad country group. Hours before he arrived, loudspeaker trucks and dozens of protesters drove through central Tokyo, denouncing the Quad Talks and the war in Ukraine.
All four countries share concerns about China, but the Quad as a group has avoided an openly anti-China agenda, largely due to Indian sensitivities.
India’s strong security ties with Russia and its refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine will likely prevent any strong joint statement on the issue, analysts said.
At their last summit in March, Quad leaders agreed that what happened to Ukraine should not happen in the Indo-Pacific – a reference to the threat posed to Taiwan by China, although Beijing was not mentioned by name.
China’s envoy for Korean affairs, Liu Xiaoming, said on Twitter that Washington was “setting up a closed and exclusive ‘clique'”. (Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt Yoshifumi Takemoto; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Elaine Lies and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mary Milliken and William Mallard)