Biden’s trip to S. Korea, Japan will send message to Beijing, says White House

Posted on : 2022-05-20 16:30 KST Modified on : 2022-05-20 16:30 KST
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said the summit between Yoon and Biden comes at a “pivotal moment”
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor, delivers a briefing on May 18 regarding US President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea. (UPI/Yonhap News)
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor, delivers a briefing on May 18 regarding US President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea. (UPI/Yonhap News)

The White House announced that the South Korea-US summit scheduled for Saturday will take place at a “pivotal moment,” and that the meeting will cover core agendas such as solidifying and strengthening the two countries’ security and economic alliance and bolstering the alliance’s role in the global stage. Stating that the “powerful message” that Biden’s itinerary in the region will send “will be heard in Beijing,” the White House did not shy away from the fact that underlying these agendas is the US’ strong commitment to holding China in check.

During a Wednesday press briefing in which he went over US President Joe Biden’s scheduled visit to South Korea and Japan, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan stated that Biden “intends to seize this moment — this pivotal moment — to assert bold and confident American leadership” in the Asia-Pacific region. He stressed that “this will be [Biden’s] first trip as President” to the region after the US president successfully brought about support for Ukraine after the country was invaded by Russia.

Sullivan explained that Biden will reaffirm and strengthen the US’ security alliances with South Korea and Japan through his four-day trip to Northeast Asia. During his trip, Biden will be discussing North Korea’s nuclear and missile development program with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol as well as with Japan. The US president is also expected to emphasize the need to strengthen the extended deterrence the US provides to South Korea in response to North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as the need to faithfully carry out sanctions against Pyongyang.

During a Wednesday briefing, Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of South Korea’s National Security Office, also said discussions on “specific action plans that will demonstrate how South Korea and the US will strengthen the reliability and efficacy of their extended deterrence” will take place during the South Korea-US summit.

The White House also highlighted the US administration’s intention to strengthen its economic alliance with Seoul by pointing to Biden’s plan to meet South Korea’s top business leaders and the launching of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). “President Biden will engage with technology and manufacturing leaders in Korea who are mobilizing billions of dollars in investment here in the United States to create thousands of good-paying American jobs,” Sullivan said.

Biden will be visiting a Samsung Electronics chip factory as soon as he touches down in South Korea on Friday and will attend a dinner banquet the following day, where the country’s top business leaders will join him.

Sullivan also said during his briefing that Biden “will highlight the truly global nature of the US-ROK alliance” and strengthen the two countries’ cooperation in fields such as climate and energy.

Through a joint statement issued during the Moon Jae-in administration last May, South Korea and the US agreed that “the US-ROK alliance will play an increasingly global role.” Since then, the Yoon administration has made clear that it wants to upgrade the “comprehensive strategic alliance” between Seoul and Washington.

Concerning this, there’s a good possibility that Taiwan — which has been subjected to threats from China — and Ukraine may be discussed during the summit between Yoon and Biden. Whether the two leaders will use stronger language than what was included in last year’s joint statement between the South Korean and US leaders in regard to Taiwan — “the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” — is of interest.

Sullivan also expressed the US’ gratitude towards South Korea and Japan for “their remarkable and in some ways unexpected contributions to the effort to support Ukraine.”

Biden and Yoon may also discuss during their summit how South Korea can cooperate with the Quad, a security partnership among the US, Japan, India and Australia aimed at holding China in check. Sullivan mentioned in his briefing that Yoon “campaigned on the platform of strengthening the US-ROK alliance and on improving relations between the ROK and Japan,” forewarning that the US will request Seoul to better its relationship with Tokyo.

It should be noted that Biden’s trip to South Korea and Japan is increasingly being presented as a move intended to contain China, as it will coincide with the launch of the IPEF, an initiative aimed at establishing a US-led supply chain order, as well as the Quad summit. Yoon will be virtually attending the IPEF launching ceremony, which is scheduled to take place in Tokyo.

Sullivan expressly stated during his briefing that displaying the US’ “powerful, historic alliances” with South Korea and Japan over “four days [. . .] will send a powerful message” that “will be heard in Beijing.”

The US has repeatedly made clear that Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan is a response to Beijing’s strategic challenge against Washington. In explaining the underlying significance of Biden’s Northeast Asia trip during a conversation at the United States Institute of Peace on May 11, Kurt Campbell, the coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, stressed the need to hold China in check, stating that China has been strengthening its economic, political, and strategic approach in the Pacific region in general.

The US is making efforts similar to the IPEF with its European allies as well. During a meeting of their Trade and Technology Council from Sunday to Monday, the US and the EU agreed to cooperate in fields including the semiconductor supply chain, electric cars, and green energy — a move that can be interpreted as targeting China.

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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