Biden arrives in South Korea to start Asia trip

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PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — President Biden landed in South Korea on Friday on the first visit to Asia of his presidency, beginning a five-day tour designed to highlight his administration’s diplomatic and economic commitment to the region in the face of an emerging China.

Biden’s first comments here nodded a top domestic priority for the government, calling for Congress to pass a sweeping bill designed to increase the competitiveness of the United States against China and has House and Senate negotiators hastened to finalize.

The president also promoted the close ties between the two countries, especially in the field of jobs, as he and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took turns promoting technological advances exemplified by the Samsung facility that served as the Biden’s first official stop on the trip.

“Our two countries are working together to create the best, most advanced technology in the world, and this factory is proof of that,” Biden told a crowd of 200 people at the factory, about an hour south of Seoul. “That will give both the Republic of Korea and the United States a competitive advantage in the global economy if we can keep our supply chains resilient, reliable and secure.”

Biden’s speech comes as his administration grapples with the economic and political fallout from rising inflation in the United States, with Biden arguing that legislation designed to boost competitiveness against China will ultimately strengthen supply chains and reduce costs. will decrease for consumers.

China draws North Korea closer than ever as Biden visits the region

The legislation, one of the few notable bipartisan bills expected to pass Congress this six months, will spark significant investment in research and development projects in the United States, Biden said.

“So much of the future of the world will be written here in the Indo-Pacific in the coming decades,” Biden said. “The decisions we make today will have far-reaching consequences for the world.”

He also stressed the need for national security in relations like those of the United States and South Korea, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cruel and unprovoked war in Ukraine” as an example of why supply chains don’t depend should be from “countries that don’t have our values.”

Before speaking, Biden toured the Samsung facility, which will serve as a model for a factory the company is building in Texas — an example of the president’s “middle-class foreign policy” ethos that has guided his administration. . The new Samsung factory northeast of Austin will produce computer chips used in electronic items and will create about 3,000 new jobs, according to the White House.

In his comments, Yoon highlighted the history of the two countries by collaborating on the development of the semiconductor technology and said he hopes that both South Korea and the United States will invest in its development, which he believes will provide “national security assets.” for our future”.

“I look forward to today’s visit that translates into the US-South Korea partnership growing into an economic and security alliance based on our partnership for our advanced technologies and global supply chain,” said Yoon.

Even as the government tries to focus the trip on a close economic and military relationship through carefully choreographed events, Biden will face challenges during his visit.

The journey begins amid signs that North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear or long-range missile test as early as this week, according to intelligence from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo. It would be unusual for North Korea to conduct a missile test while a US president is on the Korean peninsula.

US officials have said they are preparing for possible provocations while Biden is on the scene, either in South Korea or Japan.

The looming threat underscores the lack of progress in efforts to denuclearize North Korea, which has pursued an aggressive expansion of its weapons program since the collapse of diplomatic talks with the United States in 2019.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said a test by North Korea would prove “their program and capabilities are advancing,” calling the provocations “destabilizing the region.”

North Korea wants the sanctions lifted before agreeing to the negotiations, and the Biden administration has shown no interest in lifting them.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is “closely coordinated” with both South Korea and Japan.

“If anything happens, it will only serve to reinforce and emphasize the fact that the United States is going to engage with the Indo-Pacific, be a staunch ally and stand up to and not shy away from any kind of aggression.” , Sullivan told reporters from Air Force One on his way to South Korea.

Kirby noted that Biden’s decision not to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on his trip to the region at a time when China is holding military exercises “says we are prioritizing alliances and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. ” Biden will visit counterparts in Japan and South Korea.

In addition, Biden’s visit to South Korea will serve as an important early test of leadership for Yoon, who took office 10 days ago.

It is the first meeting of the head of state for Yoon, a first politician with no foreign policy experience. According to local media, it is the first time that a US president has visited the South Korean presidency at such an early stage.

At the heart of Yoon’s policy is to strengthen the US-South Korea alliance and take a more assertive role on the global stage as the world’s 10th largest economy, rather than formulating foreign policy goals solely related keep up with the country’s volatile neighbor to the north.

“It is a great opportunity for the president to show how much we prioritize those two relationships, those two alliances, but also to encourage more multilateral cooperation in the future – all in view of the coercive harassment of China, of course. in the region,” Kirby said.

Their trip to the Samsung plant highlights South Korea’s growing role in managing its semiconductor supply chain, which the United States has sought to strengthen as it seeks alternatives to China’s reliance on semiconductors and other technologies. .

Yoon has said he wants South Korea to step up its economic and strategic commitments to expand its alliance with the United States beyond military coordination. He is expected to announce that South Korea will participate in the US-proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which aims to strengthen US economic cooperation with countries in the region and is in part intended to counter China’s influence .

But South Korea is still economically dependent on China, its largest trading partner, and the presidential office has already rushed to clarify that Seoul is not trying to exclude Beijing from global supply chains.

While Yoon has indicated that he will take a tougher line on China, particularly on human rights issues, it remains to be seen whether his actions will match his rhetoric.

Lee and Kim were reporting from Seoul. Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

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