U.S. President Joe Biden left for South Korea and Japan on Thursday to cement the U.S. leadership in Asia as the White House’s attention shifts to Russia and Europe – and amid fears of a North Korean nuclear test during his visit.
Biden wants the trip to be based on recent moves to accelerate a year-long U.S. pivot in Asia, where growing Chinese commercial and military power is undermining Washington’s dominance.
But citing competitive demands from Europe, Biden met with the leaders of Finland and Sweden just before his departure to celebrate their request to join NATO – the development of an earthquake following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In another sign of growing U.S. involvement in the conflict, the White House says Biden will sign a huge, 40 40 billion Ukrainian arms and aid package passed by Congress on Thursday while in Asia.
National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan told reporters at Air Force One on his way to Seoul that signing the bill “quickly” would not ensure a gap in the flow of funding.
A separate crisis awaits Biden’s arrival, however – the puzzle is that North Korea’s unexpected leadership will choose his visit as the moment to test a nuclear-capable missile test or even a nuclear test.
Despite the outbreak of a spiral covid, Pyongyang’s “nuclear test preparations are complete and they are only looking for the right time,” South Korean lawmaker Ha Te-keung said after a briefing by Seoul’s spy agency.
“There was a real risk of some kind of provocation when we were in the region, be it South Korea or Japan,” Sullivan said.
“We know what we will do to respond to them. We have communicated not only with our allies, but also with China,” he said.
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.
In the first phase, he will visit U.S. and South Korean troops, but will not march on the traditional border between South and North Korea, known as the DMZ, the White House said.
Hours before Biden’s arrival, South Korea’s newly elected, strongly pro-US president, Eun Sook-eul, signaled a warm welcome, tweeting: “A mountain shows the way to the summit of those who want it. It wants to uphold the values and improve in the future. “
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-ruled Taiwan, even if it means going to war.
Earlier this month, CIA Director William Burns said Beijing was watching “with caution.”
“I think the aggression has hurt the way the Transatlantic Alliance has come together, especially to impose economic costs on Russia,” he said.
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.
He pointed to the cooperation of South Korea and Japan, among others, in the imposition of sanctions on Russia by European powers and the United States. He also mentioned Britain’s role in the recently formed security partnership AUKUS.
This “strong message” will be heard in Beijing, Sullivan said, “but it is not a negative message and it does not target any one country.”
North Korean wild card
Sullivan said the United States was ready for North Korea to violate UN sanctions again by conducting nuclear tests.
If that happens, the U.S. response will be coordinated with South Korea and Japan, Sullivan said, adding that Washington has also contacted Beijing.
This could include triggers “to align with the way our military is located in the region,” Sullivan said.
He denied that North Korea’s nuclear test would be seen as a blow to Biden’s diplomacy.
“It will underscore one of the key messages we are sending on this tour, which is that the United States is here for our allies and partners.”
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)