President Joe Biden is likely to receive a warm welcome from the South Korean leadership during his first trip to Asia, but he may face a less friendly greeting from North Korean Kim Jong Un.
Biden lands in South Korea on Friday night, where he first meets in person with new President Yoon Suk Yol, a relatively newcomer to politics.
On Friday, they will go on a tour of the Samsung Electronics plant together before Saturday’s events.
“I think (Biden’s visit) will be an opportunity for the Korean-American alliance to become stronger and more inclusive because there is a lot of change in the international community,” Yun told reporters outside his office on Friday.
Biden and Yoon can quickly move from formalities to resolving a major issue with North Korea at the top of the agenda. Leader Kim Jong Un has abandoned a freeze on intercontinental ballistic missile tests and seems ready to resume nuclear bomb tests, possibly while Biden is in the region.
U.S. cooperation with South Korea and Japan “will intensify in the face of further provocations” by North Korea, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on his way to South Korea when asked about the possibility of testing weapons.
“We are ready for such opportunities,” Sullivan said. The United States has told allies and China that such a provocation during a U.S. visit would “cause adjustments in the way our troops are in the region,” he said.
Yun has given a signal that he will take a tougher stance against North Korea than his predecessor, and is expected to ask for help from Biden. Yun warned of a preemptive strike if there were signs of imminent attack, and promised to strengthen the containment of the south.
North Korea discovered the COVID-19 outbreak last week, but ignored calls to return to diplomacy.
Washington said it was open to direct talks with Kim at any time, but did not publicly offer new ideas on how to get the country’s leadership to talk.
Biden decided not to visit the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating South from North Korea.
Confronting China’s presence in the region is a key topic for Biden on the trip, but South Korea is likely to offer a cautious public tone on the subject, given that Beijing is Seoul’s main trading partner.
South Korea is also expected to be one of the first members of Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Structure (IPEF) to be announced during the trip to set standards in labor, environment and supply chains.
Asked about Beijing’s opposition to the IPEF, Yun said joining the structure should not conflict with South Korea’s economic ties with China.
“There is no need to treat this as a zero amount,” he said.
Hyundai Motor Co. is working on plans to build a new electric vehicle plant in the United States, and the announcement could coincide with Biden’s visit.