Joe Biden, the president of the Unites States, has arrived in South Korea on the first leg of an Asia tour aimed at reinforcing Washington’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region amid China’s rise and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The US leader landed at the Osan Air Base, 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) south of Seoul, on Friday evening.
After a three-day visit that includes a summit with his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Suk-yeol, he will leave for Japan on Sunday for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Biden’s first trip to Asia as president, however, is being overshadowed by what US officials have called a “real risk of some kind of provocation” from North Korea, including a nuclear or a missile test.
In Seoul and Tokyo, Biden will discuss the North’s nuclear programme as well as the US’s economic and security ties with its two treaty allies in Asia. He is also likely to push for improved relations between the two countries after ties soured over historical feuds and territorial issues during the presidency of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.
In Tokyo, Biden will also convene a summit of the leaders of the Quad grouping – which includes the US, Japan, India and Australia – and launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), an agreement that seeks to set standards on supply chains, worker protections, decarbonisation and anti-corruption.“The main objective of Biden’s trip to Asia is to shore up the support of key Asian allies for the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Jaechun Kim, professor of international relations at South Korea’s Sogang University. “There is concern that the Biden administration has got its hands tied in Ukraine war when the real threat is China and the key region of the US interest is the Indo-Pacific, not Europe.”
Biden’s visit, therefore, is aimed at showing that supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression is “closely related” to supporting its Asian allies counter China’s growing economic and military clout in the region.
“The Ukraine war is all about upholding the rules-based international order (RBIO), wherein the norm of sovereignty is the cardinal norm of international relations. Russia has violated that norm and invaded Ukraine. It should be stopped at all costs short of committing boots on the ground. The US Indo-Pacific is also about protecting RBIO in the region,” said Kim.
The White House has said Biden’s aim is to send a “powerful message” to China and others about what the world could look like if democracies “stand together to shape the rules of the road”.
To that end, Biden’s Asia trip is also “fundamentally about” building personal ties with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters en route to South Korea.
“In both cases, he’s looking for the opportunity to just spend time to get to know these leaders … so that when they need to pick up the phone in a crisis or to respond to a major world event, there’s a baseline of trust and understanding and almost like a common operating language,” he said.
Biden’s meeting with Yoon will be his first. The South Korean leader, who was elected in a closely fought election in March, was inaugurated on May 10.
Biden and Kishida have met in person once before, on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in November last year, a month after the Japanese leader was elected prime minister.
Hours before Biden’s arrival, Yoon sent his “sincere welcome” to the US president.
“A mountain shows its way to the summit to those who seek it,” he wrote in the first ever tweet from his official account. “I am confident the ROK-US alliance that seeks to uphold the values of democracy and human rights shall only elevate in the future,” he added, referring to South Korea by its formal name, the Republic of Korea.