Newsman: President Biden departed for South Korea on Thursday and will continue on to Japan in his latest foreign visit. Presidents Biden entered the White House with the mission of reclaim the US leadership on international stage as he mentioned repeatedly before and after entering the White House and reorienting U.S. foreign policy toward Asia. The ultimate goal is to counter China, even if that is sometimes left unsaid publicly. But between the pandemic, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, that goal seems to have, at times, taken a backseat. He will spend five days in Asia — his first trip to the continent since taking office. He departed for South Korea on Thursday and will continue on to Japan. Both countries have been vital allies in the United States’ effort to compete with China and gaining leadership in Asia and Pacific region. Japan and South Korea also have proved valuable in holding Russia accountable for its aggression in Ukraine.
On Feb. 11, two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, the administration released its Indo-Pacific strategy. Now, in the midst of the ongoing war, on the same day the president meets with the leaders of Finland and Sweden to discuss their desire to join NATO, he’ll fly out to Asia.
The trip will mark the president’s first trip to the region since taking office and will feature a heavy focus on North Korea and China. While the president campaigned heavily on making China a main focus of his foreign policy, the war in Ukraine has occupied Biden’s foreign agenda of late.
Though the Biden administration’s attention this year focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden turns his attention to Asia. Thursday White House says President’s visit to South Korea and Japan — a trip that “comes at a pivotal moment” for his foreign policy agenda.
While the White House may hope that the trip shows that the president has not taken his eye off the challenge China poses, Ukraine will still loom large over the trip.
“President Biden has rallied the free world in defense of Ukraine and in opposition to Russian aggression,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday. “He remains focused on ensuring that our efforts in those missions are successful, but he also intends to seize this moment, this pivotal moment, to assert bold and confident American leadership in another vital region of the world — the Indo-Pacific.”
Biden will begin his journey in Seoul and wrap the visit in Tokyo. Sullivan said this will be an “opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce two vital security alliances” and to “deepen two vibrant economic partnerships.”
“The message we’re trying to send on this trip is a message of an affirmative vision of what the world can look like if the democracies and open societies of the world stand together to shape the rules of the road, to define the security architecture of the region, to reinforce strong, powerful, historic alliances, and we think putting that on display over four days bilaterally with the ROK and Japan, through the Quad, through the Indo-Pacific economic framework, it will send a powerful message. We think that message will be heard everywhere.”
Asked to what extent is the message of this trip is a cautionary tale delivered to China and their aggression towards Taiwan, Sullivan said the message “will be heard in Beijing, but it is not a negative message, and it’s not targeted at any one country.”
While in South Korea, President Biden is expected to meet with President Yoon Seok-youl, “engage with technology and manufacturing leaders” who are “mobilizing billions of dollars in investment here in the United States,” and he will visit American and South Korean troops who are “standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defense” of threats posed by North Korea.
Singapore, South Korea, Australia, and Japan are now all partners in the international coalition to punish Russia for its behavior.
“Korea is closely aligned with the U.S. and the global coalition to put export control measures and economic sanctions against Russia’s military aggression,” Yeo Han-koo, the South Korean trade minister, said in a statement in early March. In fact, experts say if the U.S. had acted on its own, export controls put in place wouldn’t have made much of an impact on Russia, but the support of Asian countries who manufacture key technology has been critical.
Despite Japan’s unwillingness to provoke Russia during its 2014 invasion of Ukraine, this time Japan’s leaders have taken a leading role in responding.
“What very early on in this crisis was impressive to me is Prime Minister Kishida defined this not as a European war but as a challenge to the global order,” Smith said.
Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, the White House dispatched a delegation of former and defense and national security — including Green and Medeiros — to Taiwan to reassure the self-governed democratic island off the Chinese coast. China has vowed to unify the two and hasn’t ruled out force to do so.
The juxtaposition of these events shows the dilemma but also the opportunity for Biden.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden will not be visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) this trip. He visited the area as vice president in 2013 and while serving in the Senate.
Sullivan, though, continued to repeat that U.S. intelligence continues to show that North Korean leader Kim Jon Un, who ramped up missile launches in 2002, could launch a long-range missile test, nuclear test, or both in the days leading into, on, or after the president’s trip to the region.
“We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan,” Sullivan told reporters.
In Japan, Biden will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss economic relations and global security issues, including North Korea, and they launch a new economic initiative for the region.
“The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, IPEF, as we affectionately call it, is a 21st century economic arrangement, a new model designed to tackle new economic challenges,” Sullivan said. “From setting the rules of the digital economy, to ensuring secure and resilient supply chains, to managing the energy transition, to investing in clean modern high standards infrastructure.”
And while in Tokyo, Biden will also participate in a second in-person Quad summit with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan. They last met in September at the White House.