Biden Says Japan ‘Xenophobic’ Along With China, Russia

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(Bloomberg) -- US President Joe Biden included ally Japan along with rivals China and Russia in a list of countries he called “xenophobic” in a speech at a campaign fundraising event in Washington.

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Biden reiterated remarks he made last month linking China’s economic woes to its unwillingness to accept immigration. This time he added Russia, but also longstanding ally Japan, whose Prime Minister Fumio Kishida he welcomed for a summit and state dinner in Washington three weeks ago.

Read more: Biden Upgrades Japan Defense Ties Due to ‘Dangerous’ China

“You know, one of the reasons our economy is growing is because of you and many others. Why? Because we welcome immigrants,” Biden told Asian American and Pacific Islander donors Wednesday. “The reason - look, think about it. Why is China stalling so bad economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia? Why is India? Because they’re xenophobic, they don’t want immigrants.”

Read more: Biden Calls China ‘Xenophobic,’ Ramping Up Campaign Rhetoric

His criticisms and the fact that Japan was mentioned alongside two major US rivals could raise hackles in Tokyo. The US and Japan announced a “significant upgrade” to their defense ties last month, citing the need to counter China’s “dangerous” actions in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden’s reference to India was unusual, given the economy is the fastest growing of any major nation and, unlike Japan and China, its population is young and expanding. India’s Ministry of External Affairs wasn’t immediately available to comment when contacted for a response.

Allies know “very well how much the president respects them, their friendship, values, their contributions,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday when asked about the president’s comment.

“The broader point that the president was making — and I think people all around the world recognize this — is that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and it’s in our DNA,” Kirby said. “We’re better for it, we’re stronger for it. We’re not going to walk away from it.”

The April summit in Washington was overshadowed by Biden’s stance on a plan for Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp to buy United States Steel Corp, after he said the firm should remain US-owned.

Japan’s government acknowledges its aging and shrinking population is a source of concern with Kishida himself saying the issue threatens society’s ability to function. The country’s also gradually opening the door to more immigrants, many of whom are filling jobs in sectors where there are shortages of workers.

The number of foreigners resident in Japan rose to a record high of 3.4 million in December 2023, up 10% on the previous year and representing about 2.7% of the population of about 124 million.

A survey by Japan’s Asahi newspaper published last month found 62% of respondents said more foreign workers should be accepted, compared with 44% in a similar poll in 2018.

--With assistance from Sudhi Ranjan Sen.

(Updates with context about India’s economy. An earlier version corrected Biden’s comment in third paragraph to replace the word ‘anyone’ with ‘India’)

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