Biden forges closer ties with South Korea amid Pyongyang threats

After focusing on Ukraine in recent months, the US president makes a trip to Asia to strengthen the alliance against China
REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE-El presidente de Estados Unidos, Joe Biden

REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE  -   US President Joe Biden

US foreign policy is once again looking towards Asia. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Washington has intensified cooperation with its NATO partners while positioning itself as Kiev's main arms supplier during the war.

However, the US has other fronts in other parts of the world to keep a close eye on, such as China's expansion in the Asia-Pacific region or the continuing nuclear threats from North Korea. For this reason, US President Joe Biden has decided to embark on a trip to the region in order to strengthen regional alliances and confront the Asian giant, Washington's great current rival along with Russia.

PHOTO/FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping

The first stop on Biden's trip was Seoul, where he met with his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office just over a week ago. Given the aggressive statements made by his northern neighbour, Kim Jong-Un, Yoon is seeking closer relations with the United States, especially in the defence and military sphere.

To this end, the two presidents agreed to "expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training in and around the Korean peninsula", they announced in a joint statement. This is a major departure from the Asia foreign policy developed by former US president Donald Trump. The former president drove a dangerous wedge between Washington and Seoul, which he treated "as a junior partner", according to analysts Michael Fuchs and Haneul Lee of the Center for American Progress.

However, as Fuchs and Lee note, "despite the Trump administration's tumultuous policies, the US-South Korea alliance has survived". Biden's visit consolidates and strengthens that partnership.

donald trump
PHOTO/FILE - Former US President Donald Trump

"Our alliance is based on shared sacrifice and joint commitment to the freedom of the Republic of Korea and our steadfast opposition to changing borders by force," Biden said, according to CNN. The US leader also stressed the importance of the meeting, saying that, with this visit, "cooperation reaches new heights".

During his visit to Seoul, Biden also stressed the importance of this strategic region in Washington's international policy. "Much of the future of the world will be written here in the Indo-Pacific in the coming decades," he reflected. The region has great commercial and economic weight, as well as being home to a large part of the world's population.

The current global situation was also very present during Biden's stay in the South Korean capital. "We are at a turning point in history where the decisions we make today will have a far-reaching impact on the world we leave to our children tomorrow," he warned. And, unsurprisingly, the president also mentioned the situation in Ukraine.

REUTERS/TOM BRENNER  -   El presidente de Estados Unidos, Joe Biden
REUTERS/TOM BRENNER - Biden travels to Asia to strengthen alliance against China

"Putin's brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine has further underscored the need to secure our critical supply chains so that our economy, our economy and our national security are not dependent on countries that do not share our values," Biden explained during his visit to the Samsung factory.

Regarding a possible meeting with Kim Jong-Un, Biden said that such a meeting would depend on whether the North Korean leader "is sincere and serious". There are fears that Pyongyang may conduct missile tests during Biden's trip to the region. According to South Korean and US intelligence sources, the North Korean supreme leader could be preparing an atomic test or the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

PHOTO/ Agencia Central de Noticias de Corea del Norte (KCNA)-El líder de Corea del Norte, Kim Jong Un
PHOTO/North Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) - North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un

A scenario that is not highlighted by some analysts. "They've already conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile tests earlier this year and we've been seeing tunneling activity in preparation for a nuclear test," Bruce Klingner, senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told CNBC. These moves, in addition to showcasing the country's nuclear capability, are intended to overshadow the US president's trip. "They may choose to [conduct the tests] during Biden's trip to divert attention from [the trip's] objectives," Klingner adds.

After South Korea, Biden heads to Tokyo to meet with his main ally in the region, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. While in Japan, he is expected to discuss in depth issues related to China and its influence in the region. Biden also plans to unveil a new Indo-Pacific economic plan that reflects his trade ambitions in the region, according to CNN. 

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.