Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea later this month, marking the first international trip by Biden Cabinet officials since President Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to a State Department official and a diplomat from the region.
The trip, which will take place from March 14-18, could determine if further overseas travel is deemed safe for Biden officials, explained the State Department official.
The Covid-19 pandemic has complicated the Biden administration’s goal of putting diplomacy first and reengaging with allies. Both Blinken and Austin have had made an extensive number of phone calls with their counterparts overseas, but they have not been able to conduct in-person meetings.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said he could not confirm any travel plans during Thursday’s press briefing and the Pentagon declined to comment.
Reuters was first to report the date that Blinken would visit Japan.
During their trip Blinken and Austin are expected to delve deeper into the issues that they have already touched upon in phone calls with their counterparts from the two countries, including strengthening alliances and the push to denuclearize North Korea.
China is also likely to be a major topic of discussion. The Biden administration has cited the need to pushback on China’s aggressive behavior in the East China Sea, and this week Blinken cited the relationship with Beijing as “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.” He said there is a need to engage China from a position of strength which can only be done alongside allies and partners.
“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system – all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to,” Blinken said in the speech about the Biden administration’s national security strategy
In lieu of travel, last week Blinken took part in a virtual trip to meet his counterparts from Mexico and Canada.
“I wish we could be there in person,” Blinken said during one of his events with an official from Mexico. “I think that day will come sooner rather than later, and I very much look forward to it and being able to work in close cooperation with you.”
Last month Price said Blinken had not yet traveled because “there is a general disposition” across the executive branch “against travel for all but purposes that are deemed essential or exigent.”
Both Blinken and Austin have been vaccinated against Covid-19, the departments have said.
In the early part of his tenure Austin has focused inwardly on issues within the military, such as racism and domestic terrorism, instead of outward on adversaries abroad.
CNN previously reported that the State Department was planning for Blinken to make just first trip alongside his Defense Department counterpart in mid-to-late March.