US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plan to visit Japan from March 15 for talks with their Japanese counterparts, marking the first trip to the country by senior members of President Joe Biden's administration, Japanese government sources said Thursday.
In the visit through March 17, Blinken and Austin plan to hold so-called two-plus-two talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to further strengthen the bilateral alliance, they said.
The countries last held a two-plus-two meeting in Washington in April 2019. Blinken and Austin will also hold one-on-one talks with Motegi and Kishi, respectively, and meet Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the sources said.
The US officials are considering traveling on to South Korea after their visit to Japan, the sources said.
Japan is seeking to bolster its alliance with the United States amid China's increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, including around the Tokyo-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly intruded in Japanese waters around the uninhabited islands, called Diaoyu in China, in an apparent attempt to undermine Japan's control over them.
Blinken said Wednesday in his first major foreign policy speech since becoming Washington's top diplomat that dealing with China will be "the biggest geopolitical test" of this century and underscored the Biden administration's emphasis on alliances and multilateralism.
Suga and Motegi showed eagerness to visit the United States in their respective telephone talks with Biden and Blinken in January, but such trips have not been realized due to the Biden administration's reluctance to accept foreign guests amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Austin, meanwhile, expressed his readiness to visit Japan at an early stage in his telephone talks with Kishi in January.