US, Korea open to expanded military drills to deter North

SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said after meeting on Saturday they would consider expanding joint military exercises to deter North Korea’s nuclear threat to a time when there is little hope for any real diplomacy in the matter.

The announcement reflects a change in direction of the two leaders from their predecessors: former US President Donald Trump had considered abandoning the exercises and expressed his affection for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. South Korean, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim until the end of his mandate despite repeated rebuffs from the North.

Biden said the cooperation between the United States and South Korea shows “our willingness to face all threats together.”

North Korea, which has defended its development of nuclear weapons and missiles as a necessary deterrent against what it describes as US threats, may well react angrily to Saturday’s announcement. He has long described joint military drills as rehearsals for an invasion, although the allies have described the drills as defensive.

Biden and Yoon affirmed at a joint press conference that their common goal is the complete denuclearization of North Korea. The United States and South Korea said in a joint statement that they are committed to a “rules-based international order” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The statement likely sets the stage for how the United States and its allies will meet any challenges with North Korea.

Yet Biden also reiterated his offer of vaccines to North Korea as the coronavirus spreads at a dangerously fast rate across that country, including an offer to ship them through China if that was more palatable to North Korea. North. When asked if he would be willing to meet Kim Jong Un, Biden said it would depend on the North Korean leader’s sincerity and seriousness.

“Yes, we have offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but also to China,” Biden said. “We are ready to do it immediately. We haven’t had a response.

The division of the Korean peninsula after World War II led to two radically different countries. In South Korea, Biden is visiting factories making computer chips and next-generation automobiles in a democracy and engaging in talks for greater cooperation. But in the North, there is a deadly coronavirus outbreak in a largely unvaccinated autocracy that can best capture the world’s attention by flexing its nuclear capabilities.

Speaking 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 North conducts a nuclear test or missile strike while Biden is in the region or soon after. Sullivan also spoke with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi earlier in the week and urged Beijing to use its influence to persuade the North to stop testing.

As part of a five-day visit to Asia, Biden spent Saturday developing his relationship with Yoon, who took office just over a week ago.

The US president laid a wreath at the Seoul National Cemetery on Saturday, wearing white gloves and a grim expression as he also burned incense and then signed a guestbook. Biden then hosted Yoon at the People’s House for a nearly two-hour meeting followed by a press conference. The leaders ended the day with a dinner at the National Museum of Korea.

Yoon greeted Biden with a toast, noting that the alliance “was forged in blood on the battlefield of the Korean War.” He said this partnership would go beyond security in Korea to include advanced technology and a global strategic partnership, then made Biden laugh by quoting Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

Biden returned the favor with a toast to the alliance “thriving for all the decades to come.” The two men ended their toasts with the military motto “We go together”.

During the talks, the two leaders stressed economic security and developing trade relations as two Korean industrial stalwarts – Samsung and Hyundai – open major factories in the United States.

Yoon, a political neophyte with no foreign policy experience, entered the talks with Biden less than two weeks after taking office, seeking to demonstrate his competence on the world stage. The American president also spoke by telephone on Saturday with Moon Jae-in, the outgoing president of South Korea. Biden thanked him for his close partnership, the White House said.

Biden faces growing disapproval in the United States over inflation near a 40-year high, but his administration sees a clear economic victory in China’s race for influence in the Pacific. Bloomberg Economics Analysis estimates the U.S. economy will grow faster this year than China for the first time since 1976, a forecast Biden highlighted at the press conference.

The United States has struggled to muster a coalition of Asian nations that can counterbalance China’s growing strength, abandoning the trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership after a domestic political backlash.

Biden avoided a question about resurrecting the deal, but raised the potential for closer ties in the region beyond traditional allies like South Korea and Japan.

“Things have changed,” he said. “Pacific democracies feel that we need to cooperate much more closely. Not just militarily, but in economic and political terms.

Biden did not explicitly speak in his remarks about the need to counter China, but Beijing offered its own counter message on Saturday.

“We hope the United States will match words with deeds and work with countries in the region to promote Asia-Pacific solidarity and cooperation, instead of plotting division and confrontation,” the envoy said. Chinese for Korean Affairs Liu Xiaoming on Twitter.

Early in the administration, many White House officials believed that Kim’s nuclear ambitions would prove perhaps the administration’s thorniest challenge and that the North Korean leader would aim to test Biden’s mettle. at the start of his term.

In the first 14 months of the Biden administration, Pyongyang suspended missile testing, even as it ignored administration efforts to reach out through secondary channels in hopes of reinvigorating talks that could lead to the denuclearization of the North in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the calm did not last. North Korea has tested missiles 16 times this year, 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 calling on China to prevent North Korea from engaging in missile or nuclear tests. Speaking on Air Force One, Sullivan said Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could hold a phone call in the coming weeks.

Although Biden has made it clear that he views China as America’s biggest competitor when it comes to economic and national security, he says it’s crucial to keep the lines of communication open so the two powers can cooperate. on matters of common interest. North Korea may be at the top of the list.

White House officials said Biden would not visit the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean peninsula during the trip. Instead, Biden will tour the combat operations floor of the Air Operations Center at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, on Sunday.

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