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(News Focus) Biden's election to mean stronger alliance with S. Korea: experts

All News 07:00 October 11, 2020

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- The election of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden would mean a stronger alliance with South Korea and other allies, but tensions with North Korea could escalate because Pyongyang could try to test his administration, experts said Saturday.

"I think if Biden is elected, most American allies, including South Korea, will breathe a sigh of relief. He is likely to work much harder to strengthen our alliances," said Gregg Brazinsky, professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University.

This Reuters photo shows Joe Biden, the U.S. presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, waving after arriving in Phoenix, Arizona, on Oct. 9, 2020, as part of his campaign trail in the lead up to the Nov. 3 presidential election. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

One of Biden's key foreign policy advisers, Brian McKeon, said the Democratic candidate would immediately seek to repair the country's alliances and reaffirm the United States' commitment to improving its relations with its allies.

"(Biden) frequently says when he takes office, he will immediately get on the phone with some of our key allies in Europe and Asia, and centrally say, 'America is back, and we have your back'," McKeon said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

McKeon has worked closely with Biden for over 30 years, serving as his foreign policy adviser for over seven years between 1988 and 1995. He also served as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy under the previous Barack Obama administration.

Biden believes alliances make both the U.S. and its allies stronger, McKeon said.

Brazinsky noted a Biden administration would likely treat U.S. allies with more respect.

"The U.S. will have severe economic difficulties due to the (COVID-19) pandemic, and it is possible that even under Biden, the U.S. will need South Korea to share more of the costs of maintaining American troops," he told Yonhap.

"But I think if this is the case, Biden will attempt to negotiate this change in a manner that treats South Korea with the appropriate respect," he added.

Seoul and Washington currently remain locked in their negotiations to set the amount of South Korea's share of the cost for the upkeep of some 28,500 American troops stationed in the country under the Special Measures Agreement (SMA).

South Korea has offered to boost its burden-sharing payment by 13 percent from the US$870 million it paid under last year's agreement, but the U.S. is reportedly asking for a 50 percent hike to $1.3 billion, while U.S. President Donald Trump is said to have initially demanded $5 billion per year from Seoul.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Washington-based Institute for the National Interest, said that Biden would likely seek to quickly conclude the negotiations and at a much lower rate of increase.

"I would argue that a Biden Administration would quickly sign a new SMA with Seoul within the first 100 days of taking office, as Biden will not want to drag on talks any longer and likely ask for a 3-5 percent increase per year for a multiyear period," he said.

McKeon says a Biden administration would not use the U.S.' military presence as a "cudgel" against its allies nor treat alliances in a way that Trump has treated them, "as a protection racket."

This AFP photo, taken Nov. 14, 2017, shows Brian McKeon, former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Experts also noted Biden's election would bring changes in how the U.S. deals with North Korea.

"I think Biden would also want to see North Korea denuclearize. I would not expect him to resume summitry with North Korea right away, however," Brazinsky said.

"I think if Biden were to negotiate with North Korea, he would want to make sure that the outlines of a good deal were in place instead of having summits that don't produce tangible results," he added.

Trump has held three meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, including two historic bilateral summits that also marked the first and second U.S.-North Korea summits in history.

He, however, is often blamed for giving Kim international recognition as one of his global peers while getting little in return.

Trump-Kim talks have stalled since their second summit, held in Hanoi in February 2019, ended without a deal. Their first summit was held in Singapore in June 2018.

McKeon said Biden's approach toward North Korea will be principled and more coordinated.

"We would undertake a principled approach to the North Korea challenge, and work in a close coordinated campaign with our treaty allies in Japan and Korea, as well as working with the People's Republic of China toward what we think is a common goal that everyone shares -- denuclearized North Korea and ensuring peace and prosperity in the region," he said.

He also said Biden would support humanitarian assistance for the people of North Korea.

"We would certainly want to look at working within the existing sanctions framework to make sure that humanitarian assistance can get through into North Korea and make it easier for international humanitarian organizations to deliver these items," he has said.

The photos, released by North Korea's state media on Oct. 2, 2019, show a missile being launched from an underwater platform the previous day, which many experts said may suggest the communist state's pursuit of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Still, many experts forecast that relations between Washington and Pyongyang may deteriorate if Biden is elected, at least for the time being, because the North could undertake provocations to test the new administration.

"I think that we can expect probably a provocation from the North after the election to bring the issue back into the focus of attention for the new administration," Susan Thornton, a former acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said earlier.

Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, agreed, noting North Korea staging provocations in the early stage of a new administration in the U.S. or South Korea is certainly in its "playbook."

North Korea has kept a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests since November 2017, but Kim has said he no longer feels bound by the self-imposed restrictions.

Kazianis said the North may not wait for long once the U.S. presidential election is over, highlighting the need for a new administration to quickly come up with a concrete North Korea policy.

"My gut tells me that if (Biden) does win the election, he will need to make up his mind rather quickly, as North Korea will not want to wait two to three months for a policy review as is standard practice for a new administration, and could quickly start testing ICBMs and nuclear weapons to make the point that they aren't going away," he said.

"And that would be a tragedy and raise tensions through the roof quickly."


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