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(News Focus) Yoon's first summit with Biden to focus on N. Korea, economic security

All News 10:29 May 18, 2022

By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- The upcoming first summit between President Yoon Suk-yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to focus on ways to deter North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, and enhance the allies' economic security.

Biden is due to arrive in Seoul on Friday on his first visit to the country since taking office and only 10 days after the launch of the Yoon administration, setting the stage for the earliest-ever Korea-U.S. summit following a South Korean president's inauguration.

This composite image shows President Yoon Suk-yeol (L) and U.S. President Joe Biden, with the photo of Biden taken from the EPA. (Yonhap)

The summit, scheduled for Saturday on the second day of Biden's three-day visit, will come against the backdrop of a recalcitrant North Korea rattling its saber with successive missile tests and apparent preparations for a nuclear test.

North Korea is expected to feature high on the summit agenda, as Yoon seeks to reaffirm the United State's commitment to the defense of its Asian ally.

A presidential official told reporters earlier this week the summit will be aimed at "normalizing the alliance" by reaffirming the U.S.' pledge to protect South Korea and "rebuilding the combined defense posture."

Reconstructing the alliance has been a cornerstone of Yoon's foreign policy, as the new administration believes the military partnership suffered under the previous Moon Jae-in government due to its attempts to facilitate dialogue with the North, including through the scaling back of South Korea-U.S. military exercises.

"The most important part of this summit," the official said, "will be for the two leaders to establish a relationship of trust at an early date and to lay the foundation for the South Korea-U.S. alliance to get back on track."

As part of that effort, the two leaders could discuss the question of resuming large-scale military exercises and reactivating the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group, a bilateral extended deterrence consultation mechanism that was suspended during Moon's term.

Extended deterrence refers to the deployment of the full range of U.S. military assets, including nuclear capabilities, to defend an ally.

The subject of North Korea will likely not stop at its nuclear and missile programs.

Last week, North Korea acknowledged an outbreak of COVID-19 for the first time since the pandemic began, raising concerns of an emerging humanitarian crisis.

The country has no known vaccination program but has so far shown no interest in Yoon's repeated offers to send vaccines and other medical supplies.

The U.S. has expressed support for the South Korean government's initiative but stopped short of proposing aid of its own.

The summit will also likely address the two countries' push to strengthen cooperation on "economic security," with a focus on establishing stable supply chains in semiconductors, batteries and other critical materials.

During a speech to parliament this week, Yoon said he will discuss the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) with Biden, a U.S.-proposed initiative that seeks to realign global supply chains around the U.S. and its partner nations to the exclusion of China.

Participating in the IPEF is expected to help South Korea lead global discussions on critical sectors, such as the digital economy, carbon neutrality and clean energy, but could backfire if it hurts the country's relationship with China.

Yoon has repeatedly called for expanding the "comprehensive strategic alliance" between South Korea and the U.S. beyond the military sphere to areas including the economy, industry and trade, and the summit will be important in setting the tone for his personal and working relationship with Biden over the next 2 1/2 years at least.

South Korean officials also hope the summit will be the first step toward the country's emergence into a "global pivotal state," a vision that sees South Korea playing an active role in addressing regional and global challenges.

Biden's trip will reportedly begin with a visit to the Samsung semiconductor plant in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, which could include a personal tour by Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

Yoon joining Biden on the visit has been mentioned as a possibility, given the message of solidarity it would send on cooperation in semiconductors.

While in Pyeongtaek, Biden could also visit American troops at Camp Humphreys, the largest overseas American military installation and home to the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.

The second day is expected to consist largely of the summit and a press conference, both of which will be held at the new presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul, followed by a dinner at the National Museum of Korea.

Invitees reportedly include the leaders of all major South Korean business lobby groups and chiefs of conglomerates, such as Samsung's Lee, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Eui-sun and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo.

Biden is also considering a visit to the Demilitarized Zone on the inter-Korean border before departing for Japan on Sunday on the second leg of his Asia tour, according to sources.

hague@yna.co.kr
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