SEOUL, May 22, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Before President Joe Biden left South Korea
for Japan Sunday, he offered a brief message to Kim Jong Un, whose nuclear
sabre-rattling has risked overshadowing the US leader's first Asia trip:
He offered the succinct greeting when reporters asked whether he had anything
to say to North Korea's leader, highlighting his administration's openness to
dialogue with Pyongyang, even as they look to ramp up joint military
exercises with South Korea.
Biden said that he was "not concerned" about the risks of a fresh weapons
test while he was in the region -- something US officials have warned of
repeatedly -- saying: "We are prepared for anything North Korea does."
He has spent two days with South Korea's newly elected President Yoon Suk-
yeol, with the pair saying Saturday that "considering the evolving threat"
from Pyongyang, they were looking at expanding the "scope and scale" of joint
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.
Joint exercises had been scaled back due to Covid and in order 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 tactical
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 invasion.
North Korea's weapons testing schedule may also be affected by a raging
More than 2.6 million cases of "fever" have been reported since the Omicron
coronavirus variant was first detected in April, state media said Sunday.
Biden and Yoon extended an offer of help to North Korea, which has an
unvaccinated population and a crumbling healthcare system, saying in a
statement they were "willing to work with the international community to
Biden, while adding that he would not exclude a meeting with Kim if the North
Korean leader were "sincere".
"We've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well and
we're prepared to do that immediately," Biden said at a press conference with
Yoon. "We've got no response."
- Economic ties -
Early 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 has used his visit to call for the allies to deepen ties, saying at a
press conference with Yoon that Asia was 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.
While China is the main US rival in that 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.
The bill, passed earlier by Congress, was flown to Seoul so that Biden could
make it law without having to wait for his return to Washington next Tuesday.
In Japan, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Emperor
Naruhito on Monday ahead of Tuesday's Quad summit, bringing together the
leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
Also on Monday, Biden will unveil a major new US initiative for regional
trade, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.