U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Asia in the coming days, according to the State Department and the Pentagon, their first trip abroad since the Senate confirmed them in January to their positions in the Biden administration.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Wednesday their March 14-18 trip to Japan and South Korea will “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our alliances and to highlight cooperation that promotes peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region around the world.”
Austin’s objective, according to a Pentagon statement, is to discuss with senior officials “the importance of international defense relationships, and reinforce the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region — founded on respect for international rules, laws, and norms.”
Blinken and Austin will attend a security meeting in Tokyo hosted by their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, and meet with other top officials to discuss a “range of bilateral and global issues.”
Blinken also meets virtually with Japanese business leaders to discuss economic relations between the two countries and the “economic impact of COVID-19.”
After two days in Japan, Blinken and Austin travel to Seoul, South Korea where they will discuss “issues of bilateral and global importance” with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook and other senior officials.
Austin begins his trip on March 13 with a visit to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii. He later visits India for a meeting with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and other top national security officials to discuss “deepening the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership” and ways to achieve a “prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region.”
Blinken will also emphasize the importance of a free press during the trip, signaling a reversal from former President Donald Trump’s frequent outbursts against journalists and press freedoms.
Blinken will host a virtual roundtable with “emerging Japanese journalists” to discuss “the role of a free press in promoting good governance and defending democracy.” Blinken also meets virtually with Korean journalists to discuss the importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance in promoting peace worldwide.
Blinken and Austin’s visit to Asia comes as the Biden administration has indicated the need to counter China’s aggressive actions in the East China Sea and after Blinken said on March 3 that the relationship between the United States and China is the world’s “biggest geopolitical test” of the century.