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Politics

Who's calling at this hour? What Biden's call to Suga tells us

New US leader keeps a different day schedule from his predecessor

A phone in the White House Oval Office. President Joe Biden called Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga first among Asian leaders, but after Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

TOKYO -- Who the new American president calls first after assuming office is always a point of interest for diplomats. It reflects the administration's priorities. The order in which the president goes through the phone book sends a message in itself.

President Joe Biden's call to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, on Thursday in Tokyo, was the first among Asian countries and projected a tight-knit U.S.-Japan alliance from the get go.

But the call unintentionally revealed some other aspects of the Biden White House. And it was due to the time of the call.

Suga received the call at 47 minutes past midnight. The 14-hour time difference between Tokyo and Washington puts that at 10:47 a.m. at the White House.

Past calls between the U.S. president and Japanese prime minister tended to take place in the Tokyo morning and the U.S. evening.

Biden's late morning call suggests that his team is conscious about keeping the 78-year-old leader, the oldest president to occupy the Oval Office, well rested and in good health.

His predecessor, Donald Trump, was both a night owl and an early bird, judging from his Twitter posts. Trump reportedly spent his evenings glued to TV news shows until the wee hours, furiously tweeting if he heard commentators say things he did not like.

The Japanese side was not told of the Biden call until just before it happened. This also portrays the busy first days of the Biden White House.

Looking back at past first-phone calls, Trump called Shinzo Abe at 11:05 p.m. Japan time on Jan. 28, 2017.

Barack Obama called then-Prime Minister Taro Aso, now finance minister, at 8:10 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2009.

George W. Bush called Yoshiro Mori at 9 a.m. sharp on Jan. 24, 2001.

Trump and Abe, who enjoyed a close relationship, often spoke in the U.S. evening and Japan morning. But even between those two, the latest call was a little past 11 p.m.

But while the Biden call was unusually late from Japanese standards, that does not mean the Japanese side is unhappy with the content of the discussion. The two leaders agreed to cooperate on COVID-19 and climate change. Biden assured Suga that the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu, fall under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and are subject to U.S. defense.

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