“Our alliance is making a significant contribution to shaping the future of our children,” Biden said of South Korea, “and to building a strong and dynamic economy that is a powerful example to the rest of the world.”
Biden is on a five-day tour of South Korea and Japan in an effort to increase American influence in a part of the world where China’s power and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are large. Biden wants to use the trip to sell to regional leaders about his views on the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. But many Asian countries are back from the year of “America First” Trump and silently thinking that Biden’s promise will vanish after the next election.
Eun, a former public prosecutor with no foreign policy experience, was the first to be targeted by Biden. During his campaign for the presidency, he said he wanted closer ties with the United States and indicated he wanted to take a tougher line on China. Eun has been in office for more than a week, and Biden’s trip across the Pacific to meet with him is a testament to how much the United States values its relationship with South Korea – and sees it likely to expand. The American and South Korean delegations met for several hours on Saturday, one after the other between Biden and the UN.
“The alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States has never been stronger, more vibrant, or more important,” Biden said.
Saturday’s bilateral meeting focused on the military threat posed by North Korea, but the leaders also discussed ways to make South Korea a major player in the Indo-Pacific region, both militarily and economically.
Later, Biden spoke with UN predecessor Moon Jae-in, thanking the former president for his “close partnership and commitment to the alliance,” according to the White House, and attending a state dinner. During his first official ceremony of the day, he laid a wreath at a cemetery in memory of those killed in South Korean service.
During the meeting, the presidents agreed to identify areas other than military exercises to prevent North Korean aggression. Both countries will expand their cooperation in the fight against the state-sponsored cyber threat from North Korea.
Since last year, Pyongyang has conducted a flurry of tests designed to diversify and expand its arsenal, as part of leader Kim Jong Un’s five-year weapons development plan designed to avoid existing missile defense systems.
Since the US-North Korea diplomatic talks broke down in 2019, US and South Korean negotiators have called on North Korea to return to talks, assuring them that they have no preconditions for a return to the North. However, the Biden administration has not indicated that it is willing to grant the sanctions it seeks.
US-led international sanctions and a joint US-South Korean military exercise have provoked North Korea’s accusation that Washington has a “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang. Now, with Biden and Yoon pledging to work more closely together on North Korea and other issues, a diplomatic breakthrough seems to be more out of reach than ever before.
Intelligence officials say Kim is planning a new test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the continental United States. North Korea is showing signs of a possible impending nuclear test, which will be its seventh and first since 2017.
But the leaders wanted to build their interaction outside the threat from a volatile country. During their first joint appearance on Friday, the presidents visited a Samsung chip manufacturing plant and spoke of strengthening economic ties between the two countries. Biden is seeking a top internal priority for the administration: a sweeping bill meant to increase U.S. competition against China, which House and Senate negotiators are shaking up to finalize.
Biden is also facing other challenges during his first trip to Asia that threaten to divert his attention – and that of the region -. U.S. intelligence believes North Korea could test a nuclear or ballistic missile during Biden’s visit. The country is struggling with the growth of suspected covid It has hit nearly 2 million people – a poor country with no vaccine program and a fragile health care system.
Biden said the United States had told North Korea it would supply the vaccine, but had received no response. A spokesman for the National Security Council said the offer was made through an existing channel, such as Kovacs, a global vaccine-sharing initiative and administration made it as recent as last week.
South Korea has announced plans to provide North Korea with vaccines and medical assistance, but Pyongyang has not responded, Seoul said.
Economically, Biden is trying to sell Indo-Pacific leaders in a scale-down version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is similarly involved. Partner, but not the same tariff reduction or access to the American market as its predecessor. He faced intense skepticism throughout the region, especially those who unwittingly joined the TPP to reduce trade barriers with the United States, but the United States was unable to do so after the withdrawal under Trump.
One of the aims of the United States is to get the new foreign policy chief to adhere to the agreement reached by former South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two countries agreed last year on a framework that would expand their military alliance to include issues of economic security.
Through all of this, observers are watching to see how China reacts to the US’s belligerent attack on one of its regional trading partners.
“Things have changed,” Biden said during the briefing. “There is a perception among Pacific democracies that there is a need for closer cooperation, not only militarily but also economically and politically.”