By CHRIS MEGERIAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attending a funeral on behalf of the United States is normally a straightforward task for a vice president, but Kamala Harris will face controversy at almost every turn as she travels to Asia for the memorial in honor of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
US allies are seeking clarification after mixed messages over whether President Joe Biden would send troops to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, a potential conflict that could quickly engulf the rest of the region. There is potential for more provocations from North Korea, which tested a missile shortly before Harris left Washington on Sunday.
Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan are moving toward a reconciliation that would heal some of the wounds left by World War II, with the United States cautiously trying to push the process forward. And there’s resentment over a new US law that makes electric vehicles built outside of North America ineligible for subsidies.
Even Abe’s state funeral on Tuesday is itself a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are rare and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed. Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after World War II, was murdered with a homemade gun nearly three months ago.
Reflecting deep divisions, an elderly man is believed to have set himself on fire to protest the funeral, with more protests expected in the coming days. The controversy has politically weakened Japan’s current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, at a time when his government plans to pursue Abe’s goal of bolstering the country’s military.
If Japan goes ahead with its proposed military spending, it will have the world’s third-largest defense budget in years to come as tensions rise between China and the United States over Taiwan. The island is a self-governing democracy, but Beijing considers it part of its territory and has pledged to reunite it with the mainland.
Harris, who is leading a delegation of current and former US officials to the funeral, plans to spend three nights in Tokyo. She is expected to meet Kishida, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Harris plans to meet with Japanese business leaders as the United States seeks to expand computer chip manufacturing and to visit American sailors serving on a US destroyer at a nearby naval base.
This will be the vice president’s second trip to Asia since taking office in January 2021.
During a layover in South Korea, she plans to see President Yoon Suk Yeol and host a panel discussion with leading women – a touchy subject in a country where Yoon has faced criticism for his administration. predominantly male.
Relations between South Korea and Japan remain strained due to the legacy of Japanese aggression during World War II. Koreans are asking for compensation for the forced labor and sex slavery that took place when Japan occupied their country.
Kishida and Yoon announced at the United Nations on Thursday that they would accelerate their work to repair relations between their two countries.
Biden has met with each leader separately, and the United States is eager to see the two allies resolve their issues as they seek a united front against China.
Taiwan remains a hot spot and tensions have increased in recent months.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, visited Taiwan in August, sparking outrage from Beijing, which responded with military drills. Although Chinese leaders have said they seek peaceful reunification with Taiwan, the exercises are a reminder of the possibility that Beijing could use force.
China also fired missiles into waters near some of Japan’s southern islands, a reminder that any dispute over Taiwan would pose a threat to other countries as well.
The United States has 55,000 troops based in Japan, more than half of them on the southern island of Okinawa. Earlier this month, Okinawa re-elected a governor who calls for a reduction in the US presence there.
Biden said in a recent CBS “60 Minutes” interview that the United States would send its own troops to defend Taiwan if China invaded. But there is no formal defense treaty with Taiwan, and administration officials have repeatedly said Biden’s comments did not reflect a shift in policy, muddying the waters on exactly what the US would do. United.
“It’s ambiguous,” said Ja-Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. “But if it’s strategically ambiguous, I don’t know.”
More controversy awaits Harris in South Korea, where new US rules that make electric cars built outside North America ineligible for US government subsidies are sparking outrage. The policy was included in the Cut Inflation Act, a landmark law that includes nearly $375 billion for climate change initiatives.
Yoon, South Korea’s recently elected president, had spent his first months in office emphasizing his country’s close ties to the United States, but now officials are expressing a sense of betrayal. They want the rules delayed until 2025, when Korean automaker Hyundai plans to complete a new plant in Georgia.
Yoon’s government is also considering filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the law, which it sees as a potential violation of trade rules and an agreement between the two countries.
South Korean officials are also seeking cooperation with European countries such as Germany and Sweden, which they say share similar concerns over their electric vehicles being exported to the United States, to put more pressure on Washington. concerning “discriminatory” withdrawals of subsidies.
The dispute is a nasty follow-up to Biden’s trip to Seoul earlier this year, when he celebrated automaker Hyundai’s plans to invest $10 billion in the United States. About half of that money goes to the Georgia plant.
Associated Press writers Yuri Kageyama and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.