India, Japan dismiss Biden’s ‘xenophobic’ comment

Japan calls US president’s remarks ‘unfortunate’, while India says it’s open to immigrants.

Joe Biden shakes hands with Japanese PM Kishida
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House in Washington, DC, United States [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

India and Japan have rejected President Joe Biden’s remarks calling the US allies “xenophobic” countries who do not welcome immigrants, and grouping the two nations with China and Russia.

India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the country has historically been open to immigrants and is on strong economic footing, The Economic Times newspaper reported on Saturday.

“First of all, our economy is not faltering,” Jaishankar said at a roundtable hosted by The Economic Times on Friday, after Biden said the four nations were failing to capitalise on the economic benefits of migration.

“I think we should be open to people who have the need to come to India, who have a claim to come to India,” Jaishankar added, pointing to a contentious citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalisation for some non-Muslim immigrants.

Japan, which has the lowest immigrant population of any Group of Seven (G7) nation at less than 2 percent, also took issue with the US president’s comments, its embassy in Washington, DC, describing them as “unfortunate” and “not based on an accurate understanding of Japan’s policies”.

‘They don’t want immigrants’

At a recent campaign fundraiser, Biden criticised the countries for taking in fewer migrants, while arguing migration has bolstered the US economy.

“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,” Biden said at the event, which marked the start of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“One of the reasons why our economy’s growing is because of you and many others. Why? Because we welcome immigrants.”

The president’s singling out of Japan and India came as a surprise as he has made a point of strengthening ties with the two nations since taking office in 2021.

US President Joe Biden and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi toast during an official State Dinner in honor of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 22, 2023. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP)
US President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi toast during a state dinner at the White House, Washington, DC, on June 22, 2023 [Stefani Reynolds/AFP]

Last year, Biden welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House, where he hailed the two countries’ shared “democratic character” and “diversity”.

In April, he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a state dinner, celebrating the United States and Japan’s “unbreakable” partnership, and commitment to “democracy and freedom”.

Japan’s embassy on Friday said it had raised the issue with administration officials, in a statement cited by US media.

It also said that it was “aware” that the administration had clarified that Biden’s comments were intended to highlight immigrants’ role in strengthening the US, “and that his comment was not made with the intent of undermining the importance and permanence of the Japan-US relationship”.

The controversy would not affect Japan’s future work with the US, it added.

The White House subsequently sought to downplay the remarks. It said the president’s “broader point” was to highlight the US’s own diversity, emphasising that “our allies know very well how much the president respects them”.

Japan, despite its historically strict immigration policy, has been slowly opening its doors to outsiders to compensate for its rapidly ageing population.

India, the world’s most populous nation, has faced criticism for its move to implement the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, which expedites naturalisation for non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

While the law eases the migration process for some asylum seekers, critics say it discriminates against Muslims and is unconstitutional.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies