SEOUL – U.S. President Joe Biden and his new South Korean counterpart will explore ways to break a diplomatic stalemate with North Korea on Saturday, as they worry Kim Jong Un could strike through a new nuclear test.
Biden and Yoon Sook-eol will meet in Seoul for their first diplomatic engagement since the inauguration of the South Korean president 11 days ago. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is preparing to launch a nuclear or missile test, sparking a friendly confrontation between allies over intelligence.
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 an early strike if there were signs of an impending attack and promised to strengthen the southern resistance.
North Korea’s first recognized COVID-19 outbreak, described by U.S. officials as “quite serious,” could provide an opening.
“We are very concerned about the situation,” the official said. “We are very sensitive that they seem to be facing a very serious situation, and I think you have seen that we are ready to work with others in the international community in need of assistance.”
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.
This, in addition to a diplomatic inauguration, has raised the possibility of a humanitarian crisis or a deadly new cowardly form, health officials say.
Washington has said it has no plans to send the vaccine directly to the country, but could force Eun Biden to do so. North Korea has not received offers of COVID assistance from South Korea, the United States and international vaccine sharing agencies.
Eyes on China
A North Korean weapons test could overtake Biden’s extensive travel focus on China, trade and other regional issues.
Biden is ready to launch an Indo-Pacific economic structure that excludes China, which he calls dictatorships, and calls for more cooperation with “sharing our values” with countries like South Korea.
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.”
Liu called on the United States to join efforts to build a “free and inclusive circle of friends” in the region, rather than a “closed and exclusive circle”.
“More needs to be done to contribute to peace and development in the Asia-Pacific region than to create unrest and chaos in the region,” he said.
Eun, who is keen for South Korea to play a bigger role in regional issues, is expected to be among the opening members of Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which will be announced during a visit to discuss labor, environment and standards. Supply chain.
But as Beijing is Seoul’s top trading partner, it could clearly strike a cautious tone in public about resisting China, saying Friday that joining the framework does not conflict with countries’ economic ties.
Biden plans to use the trip to invest in the United States by Korean companies, including a move by Hyundai Motor Group of South Korea to invest about $ 5.54 billion in building its first fully electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facilities in the United States. (Reporting by Trevor Honeycut, Eric Beach and Josh Smith; Editing by Sandra Mailer and William Malard)