US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said after the meeting on Saturday that they would consider expanded military exercises to deter the nuclear threat from North Korea at a time when there is little hope of genuine diplomacy in the matter.
Yoon confirmed in remarks at a press conference that their common goal is the complete nuclear disarmament of North Korea. The United States and South Korea issued a joint statement saying they were committed to a “rule-based international order” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The statement is likely to set the stage for how the United States and its allies will tackle any challenges with North Korea.
The statement may draw an angry response from North Korea, which had defended its nuclear weapons and missile development on what it perceives as U.S. threats and has long described U.S.-South Korean military exercises as invasion exercises, although the Allies have described the exercises as defensive.
Biden told his counterpart at a meeting that their 70-year alliance between their countries is based on “shared sacrifice” and would be taken to new levels as the emphasis on national security is reinforced by an extra focus on trade and technology.
“Our two nations are currently working on both the opportunities and the challenges,” the US president said.
The division of the Korean Peninsula after World War II has led to two radically different countries. In South Korea, Biden visits factories after computer chips and next-generation cars in a democracy and engages in negotiations for greater cooperation. But in the Nordic region, there is a deadly coronavirus outbreak in a largely unvaccinated autocracy that can best capture the world’s attention by unfolding its nuclear capabilities.
In a speech to reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to South Korea, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States had coordinated with Seoul and Tokyo on how they would react if the Nordics carried out a nuclear test or missile attack while The bite is in the region or shortly after. Sullivan also spoke with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi earlier this week, urging Beijing to use its influence to persuade the Nordics to suspend tests.
As part of a five-day visit to Asia, Biden spent Saturday developing his relationship with Yoon, who took office a little more than a week ago. One of Biden’s tasks involved reassuring South Korea about the United States’ commitment to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
There is concern in Seoul that Washington is slipping back into the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy of ignoring North Korea until it shows seriousness about nuclear disarmament, an approach that was criticized for neglecting the North as it made great strides in the construction of its nuclear arsenal.
The prospects for genuine nuclear diplomacy are slim, as North Korea has ignored South Korean and US offers of assistance with its COVID-19 outbreak, dampening hopes that such cooperation could help ease nuclear tensions or even lead to negotiations. Still, Biden and Yoon are expected to discuss ways to work with the international community to get the Nordic region’s much-needed vaccines and tests, according to senior Biden administration officials who briefed journalists.
The U.S. president opened Saturday by laying a wreath at Seoul National Cemetery, wearing white gloves and a gloomy expression, as he also burned incense and then signed a guest book. Biden then greeted Yoon at the People’s House for a nearly two-hour meeting and brief public remarks. The couple will also hold a joint news conference and attend a leadership dinner at the Korean National Museum.
In addition to North Korea, both leaders are eager to emphasize growing trade ties as two Korean industrialists – Samsung and Hyundai – open large factories in the United States
Biden faces growing disapproval in the U.S. over inflation near a 40-year high, but his administration sees a clear economic victory in the competition with China for influence in the Pacific. Bloomberg Economics Analysis estimates that the U.S. economy will grow faster this year than China for the first time since 1976, a forecast that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre credited Biden’s spending on coronavirus relief and infrastructure that led to faster job growth.
The national security event that sparks broader discussions between the two countries has been Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a war that has led to an unprecedented set of sanctions from the United States and its allies.
South Korea joined the United States in imposing export controls on Russia and blocking Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system. Its participation was the key to stopping Russia’s access to computer chips and other technologies necessary for weapons and economic development.
At the beginning of the administration, many White House officials believed that Kim’s nuclear ambitions would prove to be perhaps the administration’s most annoying challenge, and that the North Korean leader would aim to test Biden’s abilities early in his tenure.
During the first 14 months of Biden’s administration, Pyongyang endured missile tests, although it ignored the administration’s efforts to reach out through the back channels in hopes of restarting negotiations that could lead to Nordic nuclear disarmament in return for sanctions.
But the silence did not last. North Korea has tested missiles 16 separate times this year, including in March, when its first flight with an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 demonstrated a potential range, including the entire U.S. mainland.
The Biden administration is urging China to deter North Korea from participating in missile or nuclear tests. In a speech on Air Force One, Sullivan said Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could hold a phone call in the coming weeks.
Biden has vehemently criticized Beijing for its human rights record, trade practices, military harassment of the autonomous island of Taiwan and more. And although Biden has made it clear that he sees China as the United States’ biggest economic and national security competitor, he says it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open so that the two powers can work together on issues of mutual interest. North Korea is perhaps highest on that list.
White House officials said Biden would not visit the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula during his trip – something that has become standard for presidents during Seoul visits back to 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 driven by security concerns.
Instead, on Sunday, Biden will visit the Air Operations Center’s Combat Operations Floor at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul. The United States sees it as one of the most critical installations in Northeast Asia.