President Biden is set to meet virtually with Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Friday amid the ongoing surge of the Omicron variant around the globe.
The White House announced the meeting Sunday, noting that the discussion will be “to further deepen ties between our governments, economies, and our people.”
“The meeting will highlight the strength of the U.S.-Japan Alliance, which is the cornerstone of peace, security, and stability in the Indo-Pacific and around the world,” press secretary Jen Psaki continued in a statement.
“President Biden looks forward to working with Prime Minister Kishida to advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to expand our close cooperation on critical issues like combatting COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis and partnering on new and emerging technologies, including through the Quad.”
The meeting comes roughly two months after the Omicron variant of the coronavirus started to spread after being discovered in South Africa.
In late November, fears of the variant caused Japan to shut its borders to foreigners for at least a month. People traveling back to Japan after visiting the barred countries were also ordered to quarantine in designated facilities for three to ten days.
“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida said at the time. “I’m prepared to bear all criticism from those saying the Kishida administration is being too cautious.”
Japan extended the ban through the end of February last week.
“The infection situations regarding Omicron are clearly different at home from abroad, so the framework (of the current border controls) will be maintained until the end of February,” the prime minister said according to Kyodo News.
Friday’s virtual call will be the first meeting between Biden and Kishida, who was elected as prime minister in November.
Last April, the president met in Washington D.C. with then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
In the first year of his administration, Biden has made clear that one of his priorities is to strengthen ties in the Indo-Pacific. However some alliances made have causes rifts with other allies.
In September, the US joined a nuclear submarine deal with the UK and Australia, dubbed AUKUS, as a warning to China and to repair a slight to Australia over the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal.
However, France was outraged by the deal, as it nullified a defense contract worth at least $66 billion the European country had to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
Biden has stood by the alliance, and eventually apologized to French President Emmanuel Macron for acting “clumsy.”