(Reuters report) – President Joe Biden arrived in South Korea on Friday, the first stop on his first trip to Asia as president, where his attempts to counter China’s influence and build economic ties are likely to be overshadowed by North Korean threats.
Biden landed at the U.S. air base in Osan, south of Seoul. He was due to meet new President Yoon Suk-yeol, a relative newcomer to politics, for the first time in person. The two will tour a Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) plant together on Friday ahead of a full day of events on Saturday.
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee was excused from attending an accounting fraud trial hearing on Friday, a court spokesperson said, as he is expected to host the U.S. president’s tour.
Countering China’s presence in the region is a key Biden theme on the trip, but South Korea is likely to strike a cautious tone in public on the topic given Beijing is Seoul’s top trading partner.
South Korea is expected to be among the inaugural members of Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which will be announced during the trip to set standards on labor, the environment and supply chains.
Asked about Beijing’s opposition to the IPEF, Yoon told reporters on Friday that joining the framework does not have to conflict with South Korea’s economic ties with China.
“There is no need to see it as a zero-sum,” he said.
Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) has been working on plans to build a new electric-vehicle manufacturing plant in the United States, and an announcement could coincide with Biden’s visit.
Biden and Yoon will also be faced with the weighty issue of North Korea. Leader Kim Jong Un abandoned a freeze on intercontinental ballistic missile testing and appears poised to resume testing of nuclear bombs, perhaps while Biden is in the region.
U.S. cooperation with South Korea and Japan “will only strengthen in the face of further provocations” by North Korea, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters en route to South Korea when asked about the possibility of a weapons test.
“We are prepared for those eventualities,” Sullivan said. The United States has told allies and China that such a provocation during the U.S. visit would “cause adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region,” he said.
Yoon has signaled he will take a tougher line on Pyongyang than his predecessor and is expected to ask for Biden’s help. Yoon has warned of a preemptive strike if there is a sign of an imminent attack and vowed to strengthen the South’s deterrent capability.
North Korea has revealed a COVID-19 outbreak in the past week, but it has ignored calls to return to diplomacy.
Washington has said it is open to direct talks at any time with Kim, but it has not publicly offered new ideas about how to coax the country’s leadership into conversation. Biden decided not to visit the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating the South from North Korea.