Seoul (CNN) – President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart agreed in talks on Saturday to begin discussions on resuming and possibly expanding joint military exercises that were halted under Biden’s predecessor, a move likely to anger North Korea as it escalates its provocations.
The move was a sign that Biden was seeking to break with President Donald Trump’s positions in Asia, where leaders have often been confused by threats to withdraw US military support. Biden used his first visit as president of the continent to reaffirm America’s commitment to the region, even as Russia’s war in Ukraine removed him from focus.
In a joint statement, Biden and his counterpart, President Yoon Suk Yeol, wrote that they would explore expanding the scope and scale of joint military exercises and training in and around the Korean Peninsula.
Such exercises were a regular occurrence, a display of military might as North Korea advanced its nuclear program and built increasingly powerful missiles.
But Trump, moving to end large-scale military exercises, surprised even some of his military officials by saying the exercises were too costly and perhaps too provocative as he sought to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. Trump has been able to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un three times, but the hermit nation has taken no steps to give up its nuclear program.
Speaking on Saturday, Biden declined to say if he was willing to meet Kim, only stating that such a meeting would depend on how sincere the autocrat’s intentions were.
“It will depend on whether he is honest and whether he is serious,” Biden said, adding that the United States has offered Covid-19 vaccines to Pyongyang as it suffers 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 if they are intended to reassure US allies about the continued American imperative to maintain security in the country. US officials were already preparing for South Korea’s belligerent neighbor to the North to engage in talk of a nuclear or missile test.
The two leaders stressed in a joint press conference that they seek to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and pledged cooperation in confronting the North. Biden said he was committed to “further strengthening our deterrent posture.”
Escalating provocations from North Korea were expected to be at the center of Biden’s talks with the new South Korean president, who took office just over a week ago and signaled a tougher stance toward 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 the simple security partnership outlined by the North. At their first meeting, officials said, the US president hopes to create a willing economic partner that can also help advance collective security goals in the broader Asia Pacific region.
In their joint statement, the leaders emphasized the importance of “maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits,” refuting China’s territorial gains, and noted a possible turnaround by South Korea, which maintains deep trade ties with Beijing. It was indicative of Leon’s broader foreign policy vision and a welcome sign for Washington.
Both men praised 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 factory upon his arrival in Asia on Friday.
“Our alliance between our two countries is based on shared sacrifice and commitment to the freedom of the Republic of Korea, and our resolute opposition to changing borders by force,” Biden said during a portion of their talks that was open to the public. .
“Today, with this visit, we are taking the cooperation between our two countries to new heights,” Biden said.
Biden has long valued developing personal relationships with his foreign counterparts, and officials said he looks forward to developing a strong relationship with Yoon. The two men met privately for a long time before joining their delegations.
“We fixed everything,” Biden joked afterwards. Yoon said they had an “honest conversation to build friendship and trust.”
America’s allies in Asia
Biden hopes to reassure his hosts in Seoul and Tokyo that he remains committed to major US alliances, even as he focuses his attention 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 long Biden’s promises on security and trade will last, given that Trump appears to be hoping for a third presidential election.
In Asia, the threat from North Korea was highlighted as US officials warned that the country might be preparing to conduct its seventh underground nuclear test or launch an ICBM.
The tests by dictator Kim Jong-un will put North Korea squarely in the global conversation after months of escalating provocations. That would underline the deadlock in diplomacy between the United States and Pyongyang, despite attempts by Biden administration officials to restart talks.
US officials say they have prepared emergencies in case a test occurs.
Yoon, a former attorney general who has never held an elective position before, has signaled a tougher stance toward North Korea, even as he seeks to expand Seoul’s foreign policy beyond just dealing with its troublesome neighbor to the North. He has 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 that a powerful network of allies in Asia can help counter China’s military and economic ambitions, just as a revived NATO isolated Russia from its invasion of Ukraine through waning sanctions packages.
But as in Europe, where reliance on Russian oil and gas has blunted the impact of sanctions, America’s reliance on products made in China raises concerns if Beijing’s military ambitions escalate.
That was Biden’s message on Friday as he toured Samsung’s semiconductor factory, which was in short supply after some Chinese factories closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a short speech, Biden linked the shortage of chips to the war in Ukraine and said the United States and its allies should reduce their dependence on core elements of authoritarian regimes.
“Putin’s brutal and gratuitous war in Ukraine has highlighted the need to secure our vital 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.