Biden arrived in South Korea amid growing fears of a possible North Korean missile test


flood
CNN

President Joe Biden He arrived here on Friday on a mission to reconfirm a major alliance in An uncertain moment in East Asia.

Even as the war in Ukraine occupied Washington–and took up the first half of Biden’s day before he left for Asia– Provocations from North Korea escalated China continues to display its economic and military might.

Biden wants to show his key partners here that he can focus east and west, and that the United States has the resources to help support democracy and sovereignty around the world.

Air Force One touched down at Osan Air Force Base, a US military facility outside the capital, Seoul, at 5:22 p.m. local time (4:22 a.m. ET) after a long flight from Washington.

Immediately after his arrival, Biden plans to visit Samsung’s semiconductor factory to stress the importance of strengthening American supply chains, which have been dependent on Chinese materials.

Biden’s trip was heightened by the threat of a nuclear or missile test by North Korea. On the horizon is the prospect of Biden’s stopover in Seoul, where he has been planning to promote the economic partnership and security ties alongside the country’s newly elected president.

US intelligence estimates that North Korea may now be preparing to refuel intercontinental ballistic missile, One of the major final stages in preparing for a test launch, according to a US official familiar with the latest information. The potential refueling of a missile means North Korea could conduct a test launch while Biden is in South Korea. Once the missile is fueled, the launch is rapid due to the danger of leaving a missile full of thousands of pounds of fuel on the launcher.

Biden and his aides have prepared emergencies if Pyongyang launches a long-range missile or conducts its seventh underground nuclear test, US officials have warned. US officials briefed their allies about the various possibilities. Should the test continue, Biden and his South Korean counterpart have made plans for how they can jointly demonstrate determination.

We know what we will do to respond to them. We have communicated not only with our allies, but also with China. This could cause the United States to increase forcefully in terms of defending our allies and cause adjustments to the way our military conducts the region,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden made his way to Asia.

Such a scenario would only underscore the grave threat North Korea continues to pose to the region, even as the world’s attention — and Biden’s — has been directed in recent months toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden left for Asia Thursday afternoon after the meeting The leaders of Finland and Sweden at the White House to discuss their emergency requests to join NATO, a reflection of how the crisis has consumed so much of his agenda. The long trip across the Pacific, Biden’s longest tenure to date, included a refueling stop in Alaska.

It’s Biden’s first time in Asia since taking office a year and a half ago. Covid-19 and other external crises have kept him at bay so far, but the mounting problems of Chinese expansion and North Korean positions remain a major concern to his administration.

Biden’s first engagement upon his arrival was a tour of the Samsung Semiconductor Factory, where he will pay tribute to the strong trade and economic ties between the United States and Korea, particularly in advanced technologies. The Biden administration has worked over the past months to alleviate a shortage of semiconductors that has hit American industry, including cars and trucks, in part because shipments of some Chinese-made components have been halted due to factory closures. Biden has prioritized decoupling US industry from Chinese supply chain hurdles, whether through domestic production or sourcing key parts outside of China.

Later in his trip, Biden plans to unveil a new Indo-Pacific economic plan outlining his business ambitions in the region. He faces deep skepticism after his predecessor the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement negotiated in the Obama administration; Leaders questioned the sustainability of Biden’s plan should Trump or another Republican take office in 2025.

Biden will visit Japan after a three-day hiatus in Seoul. Officials said it aims to underscore that the war in Ukraine has only strengthened the US position in Asia by demonstrating the strength of US alliances.

President Biden has mobilized the free world to defend Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression. It remains focused on ensuring the success of our efforts in those missions. But he also intends to seize this moment — this pivotal moment — to assert bold and confident American leadership in another vital region of the world: the Indo-Pacific,” Sullivan said on Wednesday.

However, the prospect of a provocative test of North Korea during Biden’s trip was a sign that his administration’s efforts to engage Pyongyang in diplomacy have so far not yielded much. Biden aides have tried to restart talks with North to no avail, receiving virtually no response to their outreach.

Meanwhile, the White House has mostly ruled out direct talks between Biden and Kim Jong Un, the country’s dictator, who has met Biden’s predecessor three times — including on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone.

Biden will not visit the demilitarized zone on his trip, unlike many of his recent predecessors. White House aides said they believed it was important for the president to visit US forces stationed in South Korea during his visit.

But he was expected to discuss the situation in North Korea when he meets Saturday for bilateral talks with new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yul, including new steps toward deterring the unprecedented level of provocations.

Yoon, a former attorney general who has never held an elective office before, has campaigned as a staunch supporter of the US alliance, and has indicated his intent to expand South Korea’s foreign policy commitments beyond just engaging with the North. This is good news for Biden, who is looking to strengthen alliances in Asia as he looks to counter China’s economic and regional ambitions.

This has been a central aspect of his foreign policy, but has been somewhat obscured by the Ukraine War. In South Korea, administration officials see a new leader eager to cooperate with Washington on a range of issues and an advanced economy that could replace the United States’ current dependence on China for some critical technologies.

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