SEOUL – U.S. President Joe Biden and his new South Korean counterpart said Saturday that their countries’ decades-old alliance must not only deal with the North Korean threat, but also keep the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” and protect global supply chains. .
Biden and Eun Sook-eol are meeting in Seoul for their first diplomatic engagement since the inauguration of South Korean President 11 days ago. Friendly encounters between allies are clouded by intelligence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ready to conduct a nuclear or missile test.
After the first of a series of bilateral meetings scheduled for Biden’s visit, the US president said the alliance was blocking the North, which for the first time in nearly five years had resumed its largest missile test and appeared to be preparing for a new nuclear test.
The timeline for the 1950-1953 Korean War requires further development of the alliance to keep the Indo-Pacific “free and open,” Biden said.
He said the alliance was formed on the basis of opposition to border changes by force – a clear reference to Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s claim to Taiwan.
Calling for cooperation in electric batteries and semiconductors, Eun said changes in international trade and supply chains have provided new impetus for the two countries to deepen their ties.
Biden used the trip to invest in the United States by Korean companies, including a ের 5.5 billion investment by the South Korean Hyundai Motor Group to build its first dedicated electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in the United States.
The two leaders visited a giant Samsung semiconductor plant on Friday evening, where Biden said countries like the United States and South Korea, which share a “value-sharing”, need to cooperate more to protect economic and national security.
Eun, keen to see South Korea play a major role in regional issues, hopes to make his country one of the founding members of Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which will be announced during the trip to determine labor standards, the environment and the supply chain. .
However, as China is South Korea’s top trading partner, it could strike a cautious tone in public about its explicit response to Beijing. He said on Friday that South Korea’s accession to the IPEF did not constitute a dispute over economic relations between the two countries.
While White House officials have sought to downplay any clear message about dealing with China, it is a theme of Biden’s visit and has caught Beijing’s eye.
“Jack Sullivan has stated that the purpose of Biden’s visit to Asia is not to confront China,” Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to Korea, said on Twitter, referring to Biden’s national security adviser.
“We hope that the United States will live up to its word and work with countries in the Asia-Pacific region for solidarity and cooperation, without conspiring for division and conflict.”
A senior Biden administration official told reporters Saturday that the two leaders would discuss nuclear cooperation and that Washington was ready for diplomacy with North Korea.
“It is our wish that we find a way to a diplomatic approach,” the official said. “We have made it very clear that we are ready to talk to them, and without preconditions, and that we are ready to take action to address their domestic challenges, including Covid.”
But it was unclear how Biden and Eun would begin talks with North Korea, who have rejected Washington’s engagement efforts since Biden took office last year.
Eun has hinted at a tougher line on North Korea than his predecessor and is expected to seek Biden’s help. Eun warned of a pre-determined attack by South Korea if there were signs of an impending attack and promised to strengthen South Korea’s resistance.
North Korea’s first recognized COVID-19 outbreak, described by U.S. officials as “quite serious,” could provide a diplomatic opening.
North Korea reported more than 200,000 new cases of fever on Saturday for the fifth day in a row, but the country has little access to vaccines or modern treatments for the disease. (Reporting by Trevor Honeycut, Eric Beach and Josh Smith; Editing by William Mallard and Bradley Parrett)