Pentagon chief, secretary of State announce first trips abroad as Biden looks to reset global relations

Lloyd Austin, U.S. secretary of defense, speaks during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 8, 2021.

Kevin Dietsch | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin on Wednesday announced plans to visit to Asia next week.

The trip marks the first in-person international travel for top Biden administration cabinet officials who have been reluctant to go overseas amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

The pair will head to Japan and South Korea in an effort to bolster relations with the U.S. allies in the region “in the face of long-term competition with China,” a Pentagon press release said, emphasizing President Joe Biden’s foreign policy priorities.

The visit will take place shortly after Biden holds a virtual summit Friday with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia.

The trip will “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our alliances and to highlight cooperation that promotes peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world,” a State Department press release said.

Austin will then visit India, meeting with his counterpart and other senior national security leaders to discuss defense priorities and cooperation for a “free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region,” the Pentagon said in a release.

While Austin travels to India, Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with top Chinese officials in Alaska.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks about priorities for administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in the Ben Franklin room at the State Department in Washington, U.S. March 3, 2021.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | REUTERS

In recent weeks, as Covid vaccinations ramp up, international leaders are testing the waters of overseas travel.

Last week, the Pope made an historic visit to Iraq despite escalating coronavirus infections in the country. The Pontiff has been vaccinated, but critics argued that the trip could have put Iraqis who came to see him at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Biden administration officials have held back on the usual flurry of international travel that accompanies a new administration in an effort to set an example amid the pandemic.

According to Johns Hopkins Covid data, India has the second highest Covid case count in the world with 11.26 million citizens infected. The U.S. is first with nearly 30 million confirmed cases.