SEOUL: President Joe Biden and his new South Korean counterpart agreed on Saturday to hold bigger military drills and deploy more US weapons if necessary to deter North Korea, while offering to send COVID-19 vaccines and potentially meet Kim Jong Un.
Biden and Yoon Suk-yeol said their countries’ decades-old alliance needed to develop not only to face North Korean threats but to keep the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” and protect global supply chains.
The two leaders are meeting in Seoul for their first diplomatic engagement since the South Korean president’s inauguration 11 days ago. The encounter between allies was clouded by intelligence showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is prepared to conduct nuclear or missile tests.
Yoon had sought more assurances that the United States would boost its deterrence against North Korean threats. In a joint statement, Biden reaffirmed the US. commitment to defend South Korea with nuclear weapons if necessary.
The two sides agreed to consider expanding their combined military drills, which had been scaled back in recent years over COVID-19 and efforts to lower tensions with the North.
The United States also promised to deploy “strategic assets” – which typically include long-range bomber aircraft, missile submarines, or aircraft carriers – if necessary to deter North Korea, according to the statement.
Both leaders said they were committed to denuclearizing North Korea and were open to diplomacy with Pyongyang.
He said Washington had offered COVID-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, which is combating its first acknowledged outbreak. “We’ve got no response,” Biden said.
North Korea reported more than 200,000 new patients suffering from fever for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, but the country has little in the way of vaccines or modern treatment for the pandemic.
The US-South Korea alliance, which dates to the 1950-1953 Korean War, must further develop to keep the Indo-Pacific “free and open”, Biden said.
He said the alliance was built on opposition to changing borders by force, an apparent reference to Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s claims over Taiwan.
When asked by reporters about possible reactions from Beijing, Yoon’s national security advisor Kim Sung-han said those issues were directly linked with South Korea’s national interests, as its ships use the routes.
“So I think there would be little room for Chinese retaliation or misunderstandings about this,” he said.
Changes in international trade and supply chains gave new impetus for the United States and South Korea to deepen their relationship, Yoon said, calling for cooperation on electric batteries and semiconductors. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)