Biden calls Japan and India xenophobic: ‘They don’t want immigrants’

Joe Biden has called Japan and India “xenophobic” countries that do not welcome immigrants, lumping the two with adversaries China and Russia as he tried to explain their economic circumstances and contrasted the four with the US on immigration.

The remarks, at a campaign fundraising event on Wednesday evening, came just three weeks after the White House hosted Fumio Kishida, the Japanese prime minister, for a lavish official visit, during which the two leaders celebrated what Biden called an “unbreakable alliance”, particularly on global security matters.

The White House welcomed the Indian prime minister, Narenda Modi, for a state visit last summer.

Japan is a critical US ally. And India, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, is a vital partner in the Indo-Pacific.

At a hotel fundraiser where the donor audience was largely Asian American, Biden said the upcoming US election was about “freedom, America and democracy” and that the nation’s economy was thriving “because of you and many others”.

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“Why? Because we welcome immigrants,” Biden said. “Look, think about it. Why is China stalling so badly economically? Why is Japan having trouble? Why is Russia? Why is India? Because they’re xenophobic. They don’t want immigrants.”

The president added: “Immigrants are what makes us strong. Not a joke. That’s not hyperbole, because we have an influx of workers who want to be here and want to contribute.”

There was no immediate reaction from either the Japanese or Indian governments. The White House national security spokesman, John Kirby, said Biden was making a broader point about the US posture on immigration.

“Our allies and partners know well in tangible ways how President Biden values them, their friendship, their cooperation and the capabilities that they bring across the spectrum on a range of issues, not just security related,” Kirby said on Thursday morning when asked about Biden’s “xenophobic” remarks. “They understand how much he completely and utterly values the idea of alliances and partnerships.”

Biden’s comments came at the start of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and he was introduced at the fundraiser by Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, one of two senators of Asian American descent. She is a national co-chair for his re-election campaign.

Japan has acknowledged issues with its shrinking population, and the number of babies born in the country in 2023 fell for the eighth straight year, according to data released in February. Kishida has called the low birth rate in Japan “the biggest crisis Japan faces” and the country has long been known for a more closed-door stance on immigration, although Kishida’s government has, in recent years, shifted its policies to make it easier for foreign workers to come to Japan.

Meanwhile, India’s population has swelled to become the world’s largest, with the United Nations saying it was on track to reach 1.425 billion. Its population also skews younger.

Earlier this year, India enacted a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who have come to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

But it excludes Muslims, who are a majority in all three nations.

It’s the first time that India has set religious criteria for citizenship.

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