North Korea, economic alliance set to dominate Korea-US summit agenda

North Korea will likely top President Yoon Suk-yeol and US President Joe Biden’s agenda at the Seoul summit meeting, but forming economic alliances and ties to contain China will feature also high on the US list.

The Yoon administration will face tough choices as the United States and China seek to engage Korea, a major player in strategic industries such as chips and batteries, in their supply chains.

The Korea-US summit is a key diplomatic event for President Yoon, who has focused on strengthening the alliance since his election campaign. It is also the first time in 29 years that a US president has visited South Korea before Japan since Bill Clinton in 1993.

North Korea at the “center” of the agenda

While Korea’s presidential office has yet to announce details of the upcoming summit, the White House recently told reporters that North Korea would be “high” on the summit’s agenda.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden planned to speak about security and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that North Korea would be at the center of the agenda.

North Korea has already destroyed a moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missiles by conducting ICBM test fires in March. Since then, the possibility of a North Korean underground nuclear test has been raised in the United States and South Korea. There is also speculation that the North could conduct a seventh nuclear test during Biden’s visit to South Korea.

PSAKI said the White House is watching for any signs that Pyongyang is likely to conduct another nuclear test by the time Biden visits Seoul.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was held on Wednesday to discuss the issue of successive ballistic missile tests by North Korea. The United States plans to vote on a resolution on additional sanctions against North Korea later this month, but it is unclear whether it will pass because China and Russia oppose it.

In the North, COVID-19 has emerged as a new variable. The North ordered a nationwide lockdown after the first coronavirus patient was discovered in the capital on Thursday.

“North Korea can postpone its nuclear test to focus on the fight against the coronavirus, or it can conduct it to distract its citizens,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of Northern Studies. -Koreans from Seoul.

“If the North pushes for the nuclear test around Biden’s visit to Korea, the US-North Korea dialogue will be much delayed and the UN Security Council sanctions, led by the US, will be strengthened,” Yang said.

Keep China under control

Biden is expected to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework during his visit to Korea and Japan.

The IPEF, an initiative of the Biden administration, refers to economic cooperation among Indo-Pacific countries aimed at protecting against China’s economic influence. China has taken the lead in launching the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the largest free trade agreement in the world.

Since this trip to Asia is an act of pressure on China through the summit of the quadrilateral security dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia and India, the moment was considered opportune to launch the IPEF, an Asia-Pacific economic advisory body, which seeks to protect trade standards and supply chains from undue interference and overreliance on China.

The Yoon administration, stressing stronger ties with the United States, is also expected to join the initiative and open the prelude to a “comprehensive strategic alliance” with the United States.

The United States is expected to announce the launch of IPEF with participating countries through a videoconference with participating countries attended by four Quad countries in Japan.

China has already expressed its unease.

The Global Times, a Chinese state media outlet, warned that joining IPEF would be a test for the Yoon Suk-yeol administration and that any attempt to undermine China’s interests could harm Korean-Chinese trade. . Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also told President Yoon on Wednesday that the Chinese and South Korean economies are “very complementary” and that the industrial supply chains between the two countries are “inseparable”.

As things get more complicated, “balanced diplomacy is ultimately important for South Korea to pursue its national interests and practicality,” Yang said.

Industrial alliances are gaining importance

During his trip to Korea, Biden is expected to meet with the heads of the country’s four major conglomerates, Samsung, Hyundai, SK and LG, urging them to increase their investments in the United States.

The meeting with business leaders is expected to focus on building an “economic security” alliance in key new industries such as semiconductors, electric vehicles and batteries.

The United States is expected to seek to strengthen its economic and security alliance with Korea through semiconductors as it competes with China for chip supremacy.

President Biden has emphasized the importance of chips since taking office. He chaired semiconductor meetings and called Samsung Electronics officials to the White House. Last year, they pressured Samsung to invest by demanding the submission of sensitive and confidential information such as the stage of semiconductor chip technology, and eventually lured Samsung’s second foundry Electronics in Texas.

Biden is expected to visit Samsung Electronics’ Giheung semiconductor plant in Yongin, Gyeonggi province on May 22, the last day of his visit to Korea.

Hyundai Motor is also expected to announce plans to build an electric vehicle plant in Georgia, the southeastern region of the United States, in time for Biden’s visit to Korea. The investment plan is part of Biden’s policy to promote investment in electric vehicles.

At the Korea-US summit last year, the four major groups announced an investment plan worth 44 trillion won ($34 billion) in the United States.

By Shin Ji-hye ([email protected])