Biden’s description of Japan, India as xenophobic sparks pushback

The Japanese and Indian governments pushed back Saturday against President Biden’s description of the nations as “xenophobic” last week, after he said at a campaign event the countries and others do not welcome immigrants.

Biden grouped Japan and India alongside China and Russia as “xenophobic countries,” claiming being less open to immigrants has caused the countries’ economies to struggle since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I haven’t seen such an open, pluralistic, and diverse society anywhere in the world,” Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said at an Economic Times event Saturday. “We are actually not just not xenophobic, we are the most open, most pluralistic and in many ways the most understanding society in the world.”

A Japanese official told The Associated Press that Biden’s remarks were unfortunate and based on a misunderstanding of the country’s policies, and they accepted the White House’s characterizations of the statement as a mistake.

Biden at a campaign event said the U.S. economy was booming because of immigrants.

“The reason — 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,” Biden said. “They don’t want immigrants. 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.”

The White House later said the comments meant no harm and did not intend to hurt relations with the close U.S. ally Japan.

Japan is known for its extremely strict immigration policy, which has been loosened in recent years as its economy struggles with a low birth rate. India also has few foreign-born residents when compared to the U.S., though the country’s economic growth has outpaced the U.S. in recent years.

The remarks came just weeks after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Washington, where the pair reiterated the countries’ “unbreakable alliance” and stance against China in the Pacific.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington last year and gave an address to a joint session of Congress.

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