US President Joe Biden visits Japan after warning of North Korean threat

Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, May 20, 2022.

Photo: AP

Tokyo: President Joe Biden flies to Japan on Sunday on the second leg of a trip to bolster American leadership across Asia in the face of a rising China and a dangerously unpredictable, nuclear-armed North Korea . Biden is leaving South Korea, where he joined newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol for a series of meetings, including to discuss expanded military drills to counter Kim Jong Un’s saber rattle.
While officials from both countries have warned that Kim could raise tensions with a nuclear weapon test while Biden is in the region, the US president said Democratic allies need to deepen their ties. In a joint press conference with Yoon, Biden cited a “global competition between democracies and autocracies” and said the Asia-Pacific region was a key battleground.

“We’ve talked at length about the need for us to expand this beyond the United States, Japan and Korea, but across the Pacific, South Pacific and Indo-Pacific. I think that this is an opportunity,” Biden said. While China is America’s main rival in this fight, Biden exemplified Russia’s acute defiance when he signed a $40 billion aid bill on Saturday night to help Ukraine fight the coronavirus crisis. invasion by Moscow forces.

The bill, passed earlier by Congress, was flown to Seoul so Biden could sign it into law without having to wait for him to return to Washington late next Tuesday. Before leaving South Korea, Biden was meeting with the chairman of Hyundai to celebrate the auto giant’s decision to invest $5.5 billion in an electric vehicle factory in the southern US state of Georgia. United States.

Read also : US President Joe Biden leaves for Asia under the nuclear shadow of Ukraine and North Korea

He was also meeting U.S. and South Korean troops with 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. In Japan, Biden will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Emperor Naruhito on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s Quad Summit, bringing together leaders from 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.

North Korean threat –

Biden and Yoon said in a statement on Saturday that “in light of the evolving threat” from North Korea, they “agreed to engage in discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula”. The possible boost to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises comes in response to North Korea’s blitz of weapons testing this year, amid growing fears that another missile launch is imminent.

Elected on the basis of a strongly pro-American message, Yoon said he and Biden “discussed the need to come up with different types of joint exercises to prepare for a nuclear attack.” He also specified the need for “combat planes and missiles breaking with the past where only the nuclear umbrella was thought of for deterrence”.

Any force build-up or expansion of joint U.S.-Korean military exercises is likely to enrage Pyongyang, which sees the joint drills as rehearsals for the invasion. Meanwhile, Biden and Yoon extended an offer of aid to Pyongyang, which recently announced it was in the midst of a Covid-19 outbreak – a rare admission of internal unrest.

The U.S.-South Korean statement said the two presidents “express their concern over the recent outbreak of Covid-19” and “stand ready to work with the international community to provide assistance” to North Korea to help fight it. against the virus. On Sunday, North Korean state media said 2.6million people had been stricken with “fever” with 67 deaths – which they said was a death rate of just 0.003%, despite a population not vaccinated where malnutrition is prevalent.

Biden, while adding that he wouldn’t rule out a meeting with Kim if he was “sincere”, indicated the difficulty of dealing with the unpredictable dictator. “We have offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but also to China and we are ready to do so immediately,” Biden said during a press conference with Yoon. “We don’t have an answer.”

Kevin E. Boling