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Biden will reaffirm ‘ironclad’ defense commitment to S.Korea, Japan against N.Korea on Asia trip

US defense chief promises to leverage ‘full range’ of US military options including extended deterrent capabilities

US President Joe Biden speaks during a Cinco de Mayo event in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursdayin Washington. (AP)
US President Joe Biden speaks during a Cinco de Mayo event in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursdayin Washington. (AP)
US President Joe Biden will reaffirm the US’ “ironclad” commitment to defend South Korea and Japan against North Korea’s “destabilizing actions” during his first trip to Asia, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a televised briefing on Thursday.

President Biden is set to visit South Korea and Japan from May 20 to 24. He is scheduled for a summit with South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol on May 21 in Seoul, before heading to Tokyo for a meeting on May 23 with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. On the following day, Biden is scheduled to meet with leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), comprised of Australia, Japan, India and the US.

Psaki said Biden will discuss opportunities to deepen the US’ vital security relationships and enhance economic ties during his talks with Yoon and Kishida.

On the agenda for Biden’s meetings with South Korean and Japanese counterparts are: climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, other shared challenges, as well as joint efforts to support the people of Ukraine and hold Russia accountable, Psaki said.

But during Biden’s trip to Asia, North Korea’s threat to key US allies in Northeast Asia and the US’ counteractions will be key topics. North Korea has recently ratcheted up tensions by continuing missile launches and is apparently prepared to resume its nuclear weapons testing.

“North Korea will certainly be discussed, of course, given the important role that South Korea and Japan both play in security in the region,” Psaki said at the press briefing.

“In light of North Korea’s continued destabilizing actions in the region, including the test launch of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles, President Biden will make clear that our commitment to security of the Republic of Korea and Japanese allies, reiterate our commitment, I should say, including our extended deterrence commitments, is ironclad,” Psaki said, referring to South Korea by its official title, the Republic of Korea.

Extended deterrence is the US’ commitment to deter or respond to adversaries’ coercions or nuclear and non-nuclear military attacks on US allies and partners. The US nuclear umbrella is one means the US offers to achieve extended deterrence.

The incoming Yoon administration also pursues a two-pronged approach of simultaneously enhancing the viability of the US’ extended deterrence and strengthening the South Korean military’s independent capabilities to counter North Korea’s mounting of missile and nuclear threats.

In particular, Yoon seeks to reinforce the US’ extended deterrence by operating the high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group and conducting regular exercises involving US strategic assets such as strategic bombers, aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines.

Biden and Yoon are highly likely to discuss ways to strengthen the US’ extended deterrence to South Korea against North Korea during their May 21 summit, in view of North Korea’s 14 rounds of missile launches just this year and Yoon’s policy focus on enhancing the South Korea-US combined defense posture.

Full range of US military capabilities
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday “reaffirmed the ironclad US commitment to the defense of the ROK, leveraging the full range of US military capabilities, to include extended deterrent capabilities,” in a statement released by the Pentagon.

Austin and outgoing South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook held a phone call to discuss North Korea’s ballistic missile test on Wednesday and the security environment on the Korean Peninsula on the day.

The two leaders strongly condemned the missile launch by North Korea, and committed to “continued close cooperation to enhance the US-ROK Alliance deterrence and defense posture,” the Pentagon statement said.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a Thursday press briefing emphasized the importance of coordination with South Korea and Japan in responding to North Korea’s consecutive missile launches.

Price said the US has been discussing countermeasures, including a US proposal to introduce a new UN Security Council resolution on North Korea, with its treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific. He also said Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have been in talks about the US commitment to defend South Korea and Japan.

But the State Department spokesperson underscored that the UN Security Council should take concerted action to hold North Korea responsible for continuing ballistic missile launches in violation of multiple UNSC resolutions.

“We do think it’s vital that the international community, our allies as well as partners around the world, send a very clear signal to (North Korea) that these types of provocations won’t be tolerated, they won’t improve its strategic positioning, and the world will respond accordingly,” Price said.

Price also said North Korea’s launches of ballistic missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile, have been “an affront” to multiple UN Security Council resolutions, which the UN Security Council’s five permanent and other 10 non-permanent members have signed.

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