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In Japan, Biden unveils Asia trade pact aimed at countering China's influence

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In Japan, Biden unveils Asia trade pact aimed at countering China's influence
U.S. President Joe Biden unveils the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Tokyo on Monday with Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo by EPA-EFE

SEOUL, May 23 (UPI) -- U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework on Monday, with 12 nations joining the United States in a trade initiative meant to respond to China's growing regional influence.

Joining the United States in the deal are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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The members of the pact are "signing up to work toward an economic vision that will deliver for all our peoples: the vision for an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, connected and prosperous and secure as well as resilient," Biden said at a launch event in Tokyo.

"We're here today for one simple purpose: The future of the 21st century economy is going to be largely written in the Indo-Pacific -- in our region," he added. "We're writing the new rules for the 21st century economy that are going to help all of our countries' economies grow faster and fairer."

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Earlier Monday, Biden addressed the challenges that the American economy faces and said at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that inflation "is going to be a long haul."

However, Biden added that he doesn't believe a recession is inevitable and touted recent economic progress, such as robust job creation.

"We have problems that the rest of the world has, but less consequential than the world has because of our internal growth and strength," Biden said.

RELATED Biden says U.S. will defend Taiwan militarily against China invasion

While much of the focus on Biden's first presidential trip to Asia has been on security issues -- such as nuclear and missile threats from North Korea and China's aggressive stance toward Taiwan -- the White House is also looking to highlight its domestic economic agenda.

In a visit in South Korea on Friday, Biden touted investments from Samsung, which plans to open a $17 billion chip factory in Texas, and Hyundai, which has pledged to invest at least $10 billion in electric vehicles and related technologies in the United States.

Hyundai's investment will include a $5.5 billion EV and battery plant in Georgia, which is expected to create 8,000 jobs.

U.S. President Joe Biden lands aboard Air Force One at the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo on Sunday. Biden will finish his Asia trip on Tuesday after a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
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The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is one of the focal points of Biden's trip as his administration looks to turn its foreign policy attention toward Asia. The pact is still a work in progress, however, with no binding commitments yet in place.

In a press briefing on Sunday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the IPEF launch is the "starting gate."

"We will, in the weeks and months ahead, define exactly what's in each pillar and what each country will be committing to and signing up for," she said.

IPEF is not a traditional free trade agreement and Washington has made clear that it will not include incentives such as market access or reduced tariffs, which has raised questions about its impact. The United States originally signed onto the more robust Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016 under President Barack Obama, but withdrew a year later under President Donald Trump.

That deal eventually became the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-member trade bloc that includes Japan. On Monday, Kishida held out hope that the United States would rejoin the earlier agreement.

"Regarding the TPP, we are truly hoping for a return of the United States," he said at a joint press conference.

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However, administration officials have indicated that there is little appetite among lawmakers or the public for a trade agreement such as the TPP, which became a symbol of anti-globalization sentiment.

"The biggest problem with [the TPP] was that we did not have the support at home to get it through," U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a press briefing Sunday.

"And that informs very much our thinking about bringing the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, as it's designed here, to the region -- which is that trade is an important component of this, but not the only component."

China, which has its own 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact, has been critical of American efforts to step up engagement in the region. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a press briefing that the Indo-Pacific strategy is an attempt to "create division and confrontation" and is "doomed to fail."

"Is the U.S. trying to accelerate the recovery of the world economy or is it creating economic decoupling, technological blockade, industrial chain disruption and aggravating the supply chain crisis?" Wang asked.

Biden seemed to draw a sharper line on the issue of Taiwan in his remarks Monday, saying that the United States would intervene militarily if China attempted to invade the self-governing island.

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"That's the commitment we made," he said at the joint news conference with Kishida.

Biden will finish his Asian trip on Tuesday after a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India.

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