By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON/SEOUL, May 21 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in secured a package of major agreements Friday with U.S. President Joe Biden on such issues as COVID-19 vaccines, North Korea, the alliance and partnerships in high-tech industries.
Their message was clear enough: The seven-decade-long alliance will remain strong under their leadership. They also sent a clear signal that the alliance is evolving as a comprehensive partnership to cover various pending global affairs beyond regional security.
"Trust built between me and President Biden will serve as a foundation for the peoples of the two nations to cement friendship and constantly develop the South Korea-U.S. alliance," Moon said during a joint press conference with the American leader. They had bilateral talks for nearly three hours, about a hour longer than originally scheduled.
As a sign of mutual trust, the two reached a deal on terminating the missile guidelines that have limited Seoul's missile development for 42 years.
It represented a gift for Moon, who has campaigned to bolster South Korea's own defense capabilities.
Another tangible accomplishment was Biden's promise to provide more than half a million South Korean troops with "full vaccinations," as they work with American forces on their soil.
Moon and Biden gave assurances that the allies are united for the goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace.
With less than a year left in office, Moon has been making last-ditch efforts to rekindle the long-stalled Korea peace process. He has tried to nudge the Biden government to resume talks with North Korea. In an apparent positive gesture, timed with Moon's visit to Washington, Biden named Sung Kim, a career diplomat of Korean decent, as new special envoy on North Korea.
Moon and Biden agreed on the importance of engaging Pyongyang.
"We both are deeply concerned about the situation," Biden said. "Our two nations also share a willingness to engage diplomatically with the DPRK, to take pragmatic steps that will reduce tensions." The DPRK is the abbreviation of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
In the separately issued "Leaders' Joint Statement," they agreed that both the 2018 inter-Korean summit accord, signed at Panmunjom, and the Washington-Pyongyang summit deal in Singapore are "essential" for the denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the peninsula.
In what could be seen as quid pro quo, Moon agreed to include the North Korean human rights issue in the joint document. It read, "We agree to work together to improve the human rights situation in the DPRK and commit to continue facilitating the provision of humanitarian aid to the neediest North Koreans."
Their first-ever summit also highlighted the increased focus of the alliance on economic partnerships, not just trade, and cooperation in the drive to tackle climate change and other global challenges.
The two sides reaffirmed their resolve to cooperate closely on ensuring stable supply chains for new technologies like 5G networks and semiconductors. It demonstrates that the Biden government makes much of South Korea as a strategic partner in its campaign to enhance the resilience of global supply chains against China.
Traditionally, South Korea was said to focus on its partnership with the U.S. for security and with China for the economy. But that is not the case any more, according to observers.
Biden publicly lauded the latest announcements by South Korean conglomerates to invest more than US$39.4 billion in his country.
He mentioned Samsung, Hyundai, SK and LG by name during the televised press conference.
While the allies have decided to establish a "global vaccine partnership," Moon and Biden discussed a broader approach on the international supply of coronavirus vaccines.
Biden said they talked about the Indo-Pacific region and the world, not just about the shipment to South Korea.
Moon's aides said the South Korea-U.S. relationship is shaping up as a "comprehensive alliance" in earnest.
Moon also stated that his summit with Biden on the day would "mark another milestone for bilateral cooperation toward a new era."
Meanwhile, Biden said the two countries have more tools and connections to expand their alliance, citing the popularity of K-pop in the U.S. and Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung's recent winning of best supporting actress at the Oscars following last year's feat of the South Korean movie "Parasite."
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