SEUL – President Joe Biden is devoting his Saturday to strengthening ties with South Korea and its new leader Yoon Suk Yol, while both sides are consulting on how best to contain the nuclear threat from North Korea at a time when there is no hope for real diplomacy. .
The partition of the Korean Peninsula after World War II led to two radically different nations. In South Korea, Biden visits new-generation computer chip and car plants in a democratic country and is negotiating broader cooperation. But in the north there is a deadly coronavirus outbreak of a more unvaccinated autocracy that can best attract the world’s attention by building up its nuclear capabilities.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden made his way to South Korea, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. had coordinated with Seoul and Tokyo on how they would react if the North conducted a nuclear test or missile strike at the time. as Biden is in the region or shortly thereafter. Earlier this week, Sullivan also spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, and called on Beijing to use its influence to persuade the North to end the ordeal.
“China should consider taking any measures to reduce the possibility of a provocative act,” Sullivan said.
As part of a five-day visit to Asia, Biden is focusing his Saturday on his relationship with Yun, who took office just over a week ago. One mission will reassure South Korea of the U.S. commitment to confront Kim Jong Un of North Korea.
Seoul is concerned that Washington is returning to the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience”, which ignores North Korea until it demonstrates seriousness about denuclearization, an approach criticized for ignoring the North when it has achieved tremendous success. .
The prospects for genuine nuclear diplomacy are slim, as North Korea has ignored proposals from South Korea and the United States to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak, weakening hopes that such cooperation could help ease nuclear tensions or even lead to negotiations. However, Biden and Yoon are expected to discuss ways to work with the international community to get the much-needed vaccines and tests to the North, according to high-ranking Biden administration officials, who briefed reporters.
The U.S. president opened Saturday by laying wreaths at Seoul National Cemetery, wearing white gloves and a grim expression on his face, he also burned incense and then signed a guest book. Biden then greeted Young at the People’s House in a private meeting. Later, the couple will hold a joint press conference and take part in a dinner of leaders at the National Museum of Korea.
The focus will certainly be on the North, which is threatening but economically fragile. However, both leaders are also seeking to emphasize their growing trade relations as two Korean industry supporters – Samsung and Hyundai – open major plants in the US
Biden is facing growing disapproval in the U.S. over inflation near its 40-year high, but his administration sees one clear economic victory in competition with China. According to Bloomberg Economics Analysis, the U.S. economy will grow faster than China this year, for the first time since 1976, according to White House spokeswoman Caryn Jean-Pierre, who described Biden’s spending on coronavirus and infrastructure assistance. which led to faster job growth.
An event of national security that stimulated wider discussions between the two countries was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a war that led to an unprecedented set of sanctions by the United States and its allies.
South Korea has joined the United States in imposing export controls against Russia and blocking Russian banks in the SWIFT payment system. Her involvement has been key to cutting off Russia’s access to computer chips and other technologies needed for armaments and economic development.
At the start of the administration, many White House officials thought that Kim’s nuclear ambitions would be perhaps the administration’s worst problem, and that the North Korean leader would seek to test Biden’s courage early in office.
For the first 14 months, Pyongyang’s Biden administration has held back missile tests, even if it ignored the administration’s efforts to go through reverse channels in hopes of resuming talks that could lead to the denuclearization of the North in exchange for lifting sanctions.
But the silence did not continue. This year, North Korea conducted 16 missile tests separately, including in March, when its first intercontinental ballistic missile flight since 2017 demonstrated potential range, including the entire continental United States.
The Biden administration is urging China to keep North Korea from engaging in any missile or nuclear tests. Speaking at Air Force One, Sullivan said Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could hold a phone call in the coming weeks.
Biden harshly criticized Beijing for its reputation for human rights, trade practices, military persecution of the self-governing island of Taiwan and more. And while Biden has made it clear that he sees China as the biggest competitor in the United States’ economic and national security, he says it’s important to keep the lines of communication open so the two countries can work together on issues of mutual concern. North Korea is perhaps at the top of this list.
White House officials have said Biden will not visit the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula during his trip – something that has become the standard for presidents during visits to Seoul since the time of Ronald Reagan. Biden visited the DMZ in 2013 as vice president. Sullivan said the president’s decision to skip the stop this time was not due to security concerns.
Instead, Biden will visit the Air Operations Hall of the Air Operations Center at Asan Air Force Base south of Seoul on Sunday. The United States considers it one of the most important sites in Northeast Asia.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong Hyun contributed to this report.
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