TOKYO, May 23, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - President Joe Biden arrived Sunday in Japan
for the second leg of an Asia trip underlining US commitment to the region
but overshadowed by concern that North Korea will test a nuclear weapon after
ignoring Washington's attempt at outreach.
Biden, making his first trip to Asia as president, flew from South Korea into
Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo, where he will meet with Japan's Prime Minister
Fumio Kishida and emperor on Monday, as well as unveiling a US-led
multilateral trade initiative.
On Tuesday, he reinforces the theme of American leadership in the Asia-
Pacific by joining the leaders of Australia, India and Japan for a summit of
the Quad group.
The trip, which comes as rival China is experiencing significant economic
disruption due to Covid outbreaks, has been touted by Washington as a display
of US determination to maintain its commercial and military edge across the
But hanging over every step of Biden's tour is fear that unpredictable North
Korea will test a nuclear-capable missile or a bomb.
Speculation that this might even happen while Biden was just across the
border in Seoul did not materialise. However, US National Security Advisor
Jake Sullivan told reporters that the threat remains.
Echoing Biden's earlier statement that the United States is "prepared for
anything North Korea does", Sullivan said the dictatorship has a choice.
"If North Korea acts, we'll be prepared to respond. If North Korea doesn't
act, North Korea has the opportunity, as we've said repeatedly, to come to
Pyongyang has so far declined to answer US appeals for dialogue, officials
say, even ignoring offers of help to combat a sudden mass outbreak of Covid-
19, according to Biden.
And while in Seoul, Biden confirmed he was prepared to meet with Kim Jong Un
if the leader-for-life is "sincere", but Sullivan said that remains far off.
"We're not even at step one yet," he said.
Symbolising the apparent one-way conversation, Biden said the only message he
has right now for Kim would consist of a single word: "Hello. Period," he
- Military exercises -
Biden spent two days with South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol, with
beefing up the military defence against North Korea high on the agenda.
They issued a statement on Saturday saying that "considering the evolving
threat" from Pyongyang, they were looking at expanding the "scope and scale"
of joint US-South Korean military exercises.
Joint exercises had been scaled back due to Covid and for Biden and Yoon's
predecessors, Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in, to embark on a round of high-
profile but ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with North Korea.
In contrast to the dovish Moon, Yoon said he and Biden discussed possible
"joint drills to prepare for a nuclear attack" and called for more US assets
to be deployed to the region.
Any build-up of forces or expansion of joint military exercises would likely
enrage Pyongyang, which views the drills as rehearsals for an invasion.
North Korea has conducted a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this
year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range
for the first time since 2017, with satellite imagery indicating a nuclear
test is looming.
But its weapons testing schedule may also be affected by a raging Covid-19
More than 2.6 million cases of what the regime calls "fever" have been
reported since the Omicron variant was first detected in April, state media
- Economic ties -
Before heading to Japan on Sunday, Biden met with the chairman of Hyundai to
celebrate a decision by the South Korean auto giant to invest $5.5 billion in
an electric vehicle plant in the southern US state of Georgia.
He also met US and South Korean troops alongside Yoon, a schedule that a
senior White House official said was able to "reflect the truly integrated
nature" of the countries' economic and military alliance.
Biden is also emphasising a broader, almost existential aspect to his trip,
saying that Asia is a key battleground in the global "competition between
democracies and autocracies".
"We talked in some length about the need for us to make this larger than just
the United States, Japan, and Korea, but the entire Pacific and the South
Pacific and Indo-Pacific. I think this is an opportunity," Biden said after
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi maintained Sunday, however, that US regional
involvement was "in essence, a strategy of creating division, inciting
confrontation and undermining peace", according to state media outlet Xinhua.
"No matter how it is packaged or disguised, it will inevitably fail in the
end," he said.
While China is the main US rival in the Asia regional struggle, Biden
illustrated the acute challenge from Russia when he signed a $40 billion aid
bill late Saturday to help Ukraine fight the invasion by Moscow's forces.