Pyeongtaek, South Korea:
US President Joe Biden arrived in South Korea on Friday, his first trip to Asia as a US leader, aimed at strengthening ties with regional security allies despite growing fears of a North Korean nuclear test.
Biden wants to extend a year-long U.S. pivot in Asia, where growing Chinese commercial and military power is undermining Washington’s dominance.
He has received a warm welcome from South Korea’s new president, Eun Sook-eol, but concerns are growing that North Korea’s unexpected leadership could conduct a nuclear test while in the region.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan said there was a “real risk” of any kind of provocation, as South Korean intelligence warned this week that Pyongyang had completed preparations for a nuclear test.
Biden, in his first remarks since arriving in South Korea at the start of a visit aimed at demonstrating the US determination to lead in Asia, said the two countries’ alliance was “a lynching pin for peace, stability and prosperity” in the world.
Speaking at a large Samsung semiconductor factory in Pyongyang, along with Yoon, Biden described the advanced chips made there as a “wonder of innovation” and important for the world economy.
Small, smart wafers “enable our modern life” and “the key to us in the next age of technological development of humanity”, he added.
‘Don’t forget to vote’
Semiconductors – the microchips needed for most modern devices, from phones to cars and high-tech weapons – are at the heart of a global supply chain downturn that threatens to hamper the economic recovery of the post-Covid world.
South Korea and the United States “must work to make our supply chains resilient, reliable and secure,” Biden said.
For the U.S. leader, whose Democratic Party faces a sharp push in the midterm elections this year, the issue is also an acute internal political challenge, with Americans increasingly frustrated by rising inflation and a staggering economic reopening.
Prior to the lecture, Biden visited the huge Samsung plant, taking a long presentation from the staff wearing Hazmat suits on the equipment used to manufacture the semiconductors.
After a briefing by a U.S. representative from a California-based company that works with Samsung, Biden joked: “Don’t forget to vote for Peter.”
Samsung employs about 20,000 people in the United States and is building a new semiconductor plant in Texas by 2024.
South Korea is a semiconductor powerhouse that supplies about 70 percent of the world’s chips, Eun said in his speech.
Eun said Biden’s visit could help the two allies build a new “economic and security alliance based on advanced technology and supply-chain cooperation.”
“Semiconductors have now become like strategic products,” Vladimir Tikhonov, a professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.
China is trying to reduce its dependence on US-influenced Dutch and Taiwanese suppliers, and the United States is trying to restructure its domestic industry, he said.
Biden “needs Samsung’s cooperation in this matter”, he added.
North Korea nuclear
Security issues were not at the top of Friday’s agenda, but Biden’s first trip to Seoul in Asia indicates that Washington wants to re-focus on the Korean Peninsula, former CIA analyst Su Kim told AFP.
Both Seoul and Washington can plan to “fill the policy gap” and how security allies can better coordinate to address challenges in the region and beyond, Kim said, now with RAND Corporation.
Biden is leaving for Japan from South Korea on Sunday. While in Tokyo he will hold talks with leaders of both countries, as well as attend a regional summit of the Quad – a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States – while in Tokyo.
Sullivan said before the visit that after nearly three months of successful US leadership in the Western response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden was bound for Asia with “the wind behind us”.
The high military, diplomatic and economic costs imposed on Russia are seen in Washington as a warning to China, in light of Beijing’s ambition to gain control of democratic Taiwan, even if it means going to war.
Sullivan said the administration was not so keen on dealing with China on the trip that it could use Biden’s diplomacy to show that the West and its Asian partners would not be divided and weakened.
“We hope the United States will agree with his actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.
The United States should “work with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region for unity and cooperation, without plotting divisions and conflicts.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)