USA and South Korea express their willingness to expand military exercises

Seoul (CNN) — President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart agreed in talks Saturday to begin discussions on restarting and possibly expanding joint military exercises that had been halted under Biden’s predecessor, a step likely to draw the fury of North Korea as it escalates its provocations.

The move was a sign that Biden was seeking to break with President Donald Trump’s positions on Asia, where leaders were often confused by threats to withdraw US military support. Biden has used his first visit as president to the continent to reaffirm American commitment to the region, even as Russia’s war in Ukraine has taken him out of focus.

In a joint statement, Biden and his counterpart, President Yoon Suk Yeol, wrote that they would explore expanding “the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training in and around the Korean peninsula.”

Such exercises used to happen regularly, a show of military force as North Korea developed its nuclear program and built increasingly powerful missiles.

But Trump moved to end the large-scale military exercises, surprising even some of his own military officials by saying the exercises were too costly and potentially too provocative as he sought to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. Trump managed to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un three times, but the hermit nation made no move to abandon its nuclear program.

Speaking on Saturday, Biden declined to say whether he would be willing to meet with Kim, indicating only that such a meeting would depend on how genuine the despot’s intentions were.

“That would depend on whether he is sincere and whether he is serious,” Biden said, adding that the United States has offered Covid-19 vaccines to Pyongyang as it is suffering from a fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak, but has not received a response.

The moves announced during Biden’s first full day in Asia are likely to provoke an angry response from North Korea, even as they were meant to reassure US allies about the continued American imperative to maintain security in the country. the region. US officials had already been preparing for South Korea’s belligerent neighbor to the north to wade into the talk with a missile or nuclear test.

North and South Korea launch missiles 1:09

Both leaders affirmed in a joint press conference that they seek the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and pledged to cooperate in confronting the North. Biden said he was committed to “further strengthening our deterrence posture.”

Mounting provocations from North Korea were expected to be at the heart of Biden’s talks with South Korea’s new president, who took office just over a week ago and has signaled a tougher stance on Pyongyang than his predecessor. .

However, Biden also hoped to use the occasion of a new leader in Seoul to expand the US alliance with South Korea beyond a simple security partnership defined by the North. The officials said at their first meeting that the US president hoped to cultivate a willing economic partner who can also help advance collective security goals in the broader Asia-Pacific region.

In their joint statement, the leaders reiterated the importance of “preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” refuting China’s territorial gains and pointing to a potential turnaround by South Korea, which maintains deep trade ties with Beijing. It was an indicator of Yoon’s broader foreign policy vision and a welcome sign for Washington.

Both men hailed the importance of building more resilient supply chains separate from China and promised more cooperation on advanced technologies, such as microchips being made when Biden visited a Samsung plant upon arriving in Asia on Friday.

“Our alliance between our countries is based on shared sacrifice and a joint commitment to the freedom of the Republic of Korea and our firm opposition to changing borders by force,” Biden said during a portion of their talks that was open to the public. journalists.

“Today, with this visit, we are taking cooperation between our two countries to new heights,” Biden said.

Biden has long valued developing interpersonal ties with his foreign counterparts, and officials said he was looking to develop a strong relationship with Yoon. The two men met privately for a long time before joining their delegations.

“We fixed everything,” Biden joked afterward. Yoon said that they had “had a sincere conversation building friendship and trust.”

America’s allies in Asia

President Joe Biden delivers remarks with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol as they visit the Samsung Electronics Pyeongtaek campus, Friday, May 20, 2022, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Biden hopes to reassure his hosts in Seoul and Tokyo that he remains committed to major American alliances, even as his attention has focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

America’s allies in Asia, as they do around the world, have looked to Biden to reassert traditional alliances as regional tensions rise. But as elsewhere, questions remain about how durable Biden’s promises on security and trade may be, given that Trump appears to be hoping for a third presidential run.

In Asia, the threat from North Korea has been highlighted as US officials warn that the country may be preparing for its seventh underground nuclear test or launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Tests by dictator Kim Jong Un would insert North Korea squarely into the global conversation after months of escalating provocations. And it would underscore the deadlock in US-Pyongyang diplomacy, despite attempts by Biden administration officials to restart talks.

US officials say they have prepared contingencies in case a test occurs.

Yoon, a former prosecutor who has never held elective office before, has signaled a tougher stance on North Korea, even as he seeks to expand Seoul’s foreign policy beyond just dealing with its troublesome neighbor to the north. He campaigned as a strong supporter of the US alliance and has said he wants to see it strengthened, including on the economic front.

That’s good news for Biden, who believes a strong network of allies in Asia can help counter China’s military and economic ambitions, just as a revived NATO alliance has isolated Russia from its invasion of Ukraine through of withering sanctions packages.

But as in Europe, where reliance on Russian oil and gas has limited the effect of sanctions, America’s reliance on Chinese-made products raises concerns should Beijing’s military ambitions escalate further.

That was Biden’s message Friday as he toured a Samsung factory that makes semiconductors, which have been in short supply after some Chinese plants closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. In a brief speech, Biden linked the chip shortage to the war in Ukraine and said the United States and its allies must reduce their reliance on essential items from autocratic regimes.

“Putin’s brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine has further highlighted the need to secure our critical supply chains so that our economy, our economy and our national security are not dependent on countries that do not share our values,” Biden said.

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