Biden, on Asia tour, seeks to strengthen ties with South Korea

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SEOUL — President Biden held bilateral talks with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Saturday, speaking of the “shared sacrifice” that has united the two countries as he seeks to bolster U.S. influence in the world. ‘Indo-Pacific and to mitigate the threat from North Korea.

The two presidents agreed to expand combined military exercises with South Korea on and around the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea considers an act of hostility. But Biden also said he was open to a meeting with North Korean President Kim Jong Un if the leader of the hermit kingdom was “sincere” and “serious”.

“Our alliance is making important contributions to shaping the future of our children,” Biden said of South Korea, “and to creating a strong and vibrant economy that is a powerful example for the rest of the world.”

Biden is halfway through a five-day trip to South Korea and Japan, an effort to bolster American influence in a part of the world where China’s power and North Korea’s nuclear goals occupy an important place. Biden is looking to use the trip to sell regional leaders his vision for the United States in the Indo-Pacific. But many Asian countries are reeling from the Trump “America First” years and quietly fear that Biden’s promises will evaporate after the next election.

Yoon, a former prosecutor with no foreign policy experience, is the prime subject of Biden’s charm offensive. During his presidential campaign, he said he wanted a closer relationship with the United States and signaled he wanted to take a tougher stance on China. Yoon has been in office for just over a week, and Biden’s trip across the Pacific to meet him first shows how much the United States values ​​its relationship with South Korea – and sees potential for expansion. The US and South Korean delegations met for several hours on Saturday, including a one-on-one between Biden and Yoon.

“The alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States has never been stronger, more dynamic or more vital,” Biden said.

Saturday’s bilateral meeting focused on the military threat posed by North Korea, but the leaders also discussed ways to position South Korea as a bigger player in the Indo-Pacific, both both military and economic.

Biden later spoke with Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, thanking the former president for “his close partnership and commitment to the alliance,” according to the White House, and attended a dinner ‘State. In his first official event of the day, he laid a wreath at a cemetery to commemorate those who died serving South Korea.

During the meeting, the presidents agreed to identify other areas to deter North Korean aggression, in addition to military exercises. The two countries will also expand their cooperation to deal with state-sponsored cyber threats from North Korea.

Since last year, Pyongyang has conducted a series of tests aimed at diversifying and expanding its arsenal, part of leader Kim Jong Un’s five-year plan to develop weapons designed to evade existing missile defense systems.

Since the collapse of diplomatic talks between the United States and North Korea in 2019, American and South Korean negotiators have urged North Korea to resume negotiations, saying they have no preconditions for the return. North. But the Biden administration has not shown it is willing to provide the sanctions relief Kim is asking for.

US-led international sanctions and joint military exercises between the US and South Korea have fueled complaints from North Korea that Washington has “hostile policies” toward Pyongyang. Now, with Biden and Yoon promising to work more closely together on North Korea and other issues, a diplomatic breakthrough seems more out of reach than ever.

Intelligence officials said Kim planned another test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the continental United States. North Korea is showing signs of a potentially imminent nuclear test, which would be its seventh so far and the first since 2017.

But the leaders have sought to frame their interactions beyond the threat of the unstable country. In their first joint appearance on Friday, the presidents visited a Samsung chip factory and discussed the strengthening economic ties between the two countries. Biden is trying to advance a top national priority for the administration: a sweeping bill to boost U.S. competitiveness against China that House and Senate negotiators are working to finalize.

Biden also faces a whirlwind of other challenges on his maiden trip to Asia that threatened to divert his attention — and that of the region. US intelligence thinks North Korea could conduct a nuclear or ballistic missile test during Biden’s visit. The country is also facing a suspected covid surge having reached nearly 2 million people – in a poor country without a vaccination program and with a fragile health system.

Biden said the United States told North Korea it would provide vaccines, but got no response. A spokesperson for the National Security Council said the offer was made through existing channels such as Covax, the global vaccine sharing initiative, and the administration made it last week.

South Korea announced its intention to provide vaccines and medical aid to North Korea, but Pyongyang did not respond, Seoul said.

Economically, Biden is trying to sell Indo-Pacific leaders a scaled-down version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves similar actions partners, but not the same tariff reductions or access to US markets as its predecessor. He faces deep skepticism across the region, especially among those who had reluctantly joined the TPP to lower barriers to trade with the United States, but were unable to do so after the withdrawal of the United States. United States under Trump.

One of the United States’ goals is to get Yoon, a foreign policy novice, to respect the agreements reached by former South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two countries agreed last year on a framework that would expand their military alliance into one that would also include economic security issues.

Through it all, observers are watching how China is reacting to the US charm offensive on one of its regional trading partners.

“Things have changed,” Biden said during the briefing. “There is a feeling among Pacific democracies that there is a need to cooperate much more closely, not only militarily but also economically and politically.”


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