The rattling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons overshadows Biden’s South Korea trip

President Joe Biden and South Korea’s newly sworn-in President Yoon Si-yeol met in Seoul on Saturday to discuss concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons test, even as the secretive dictatorship grapples with a raging coronavirus outbreak.

Biden’s first trip to Asia as president was overshadowed by what a U.S. official said was “daggers drawn” from the heavily defended North Korean border, and the White House thought it might use the high-profile moment to test a nuclear missiles or explosives.

“From our perspective, we’re ready,” the senior U.S. official told reporters traveling with Biden, speaking on condition of anonymity.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington that the U.S. government viewed a possible “provocation” as a real risk.

“We remain concerned that North Korea may attempt another provocation during the president’s visit to Northeast Asia or in the following days,” Price said, referring to North Korea’s official acronym.

South Korean intelligence also warned that Pyongyang had recently completed preparations for a nuclear test.

Biden’s day began with a tribute to the cemetery of soldiers who died defending South Korea during the Korean War.

He then held talks and a joint press conference with Yin before meeting again for a state dinner.

On Sunday, Biden traveled to Japan, another key U.S. ally in the region.

The U.S. official said that in addition to tensions over North Korea and a U.S.-led campaign to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s main focus on Saturday was building a “strong personal relationship” with Yoon, who has not yet become president. to two weeks. .

Like Japan, South Korea is seen as a key player in the U.S. strategy to contain China and preserve what Washington calls a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The two leaders will “emphasize how much we have in common, how similar our views are on very broad issues, how close the two countries are, and how far we want them to go,” the official said.

They added that Biden’s trip to Asia “is a demonstration of the unity and determination and coordination built among our closest allies.”

– Cutting edge investment –

Biden began his tour late Friday, accompanied by Yin, who visited a large Samsung semiconductor factory. The U.S. official said the relationship between the two leaders was “off to a great start.”

In his first words upon arrival, Biden said the U.S.-South Korea alliance was “the key to peace, stability and prosperity” and emphasized the role of the Samsung factory in maintaining the fragile global semiconductor supply chain.

Biden said the chips are an essential part of nearly every advanced modern technology and that South Korea and the U.S. need to work to “keep our supply chains resilient, reliable and secure.”

Disrupted supply chains are a serious domestic political challenge for U.S. leaders, whose Democrats fear a possible rout in November’s midterm elections, as Americans grow increasingly frustrated with rising prices and setbacks in the post-Covid-pandemic recovery. feel depressed.

Biden highlighted Samsung’s decision to build a new semiconductor factory in Texas that will open in 2024.

In the southern U.S. state of Georgia, the governor also announced Friday that South Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor will spend $5.5 billion to build a factory to make electric vehicles and batteries — part of Biden’s vision to put cutting-edge technology at the heart of U.S. industry Another big priority. strategy.

– North Korea Covid outbreak –

In addition to the uncertainty of what is happening in North Korea, the isolated country is experiencing a massive outbreak of Covid-19.

How the crisis will affect Kim’s nuclear test decision is one of many unknowns that U.S. and South Korean officials are weighing.

“We are very concerned about the coronavirus outbreak in North Korea,” the U.S. official said.

“We’re very sensitive to the fact that they seem to be facing a fairly serious situation. I think you’ve seen that we stand ready to work with the rest of the international community to provide assistance as needed.”

Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst, told AFP that North Korea’s next steps would help steer U.S.-South Korea relations under Yoon.

“If Kim goes ahead with testing during Biden’s visit, he will effectively help both countries find a bigger reason to cooperate on North Korea,” she said.

In Japan, Biden will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the Emperor. On Tuesday, he will attend a four-party regional summit comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

SMS/ceb/oho

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