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Biden set to arrive in S. Korea for first summit with Yoon

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One prior to departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Thursday, as he travels to South Korea and Japan, on his first trip to Asia as President. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One prior to departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Thursday, as he travels to South Korea and Japan, on his first trip to Asia as President. (AFP)

US President Joe Biden is set to arrive in South Korea on Friday for his first summit with President Yoon Suk-yeol on a range of issues, including North Korea's nuclear program and supply chain risks.

Biden's visit, his first since taking office, comes as both Seoul and Washington believe a North Korean nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test is imminent and could happen while he is in South Korea or Japan, the second leg of his tour.

The visit also comes only 10 days after Yoon took office.

"I sincerely welcome President Biden to Seoul," Yoon wrote on his new English Twitter account late Thursday. "A mountain shows its way to the summit to those who seek it. I am confident the ROK-US alliance that seeks to uphold the values of democracy and human rights shall only elevate in the future."

ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's formal name.

Yoon and Biden are expected to meet shortly after the US president's arrival and make a joint visit to a Samsung chip plant in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, underscoring the two countries' commitment to working together to strengthen supply chains.

The two will meet again Saturday for their first summit, which will be held first in a small group and then in an expanded format, to discuss the full range of security and economic challenges facing the allies and the region.

Top among them will be the growing threat of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, and the two sides are expected to discuss ways to bolster their combined defense and deterrence.

"The first thing that will be addressed during the one-on-one summit will be coming up with an action plan for how South Korea and the United States will strengthen the reliable and effective extended deterrence," Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the presidential National Security Office, told reporters earlier this week.

Extended deterrence refers to the US deployment of both conventional and nuclear assets to defend an ally.

Specific actions the two leaders could take include the possible reactivation of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG), a key bilateral platform that was suspended in 2018.

"The EDSCG can be regarded as the most important exercise in deterring North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," Kim said. "That is why I believe there could be discussions at this summit about regularizing the consultation body, expanding its agenda and strengthening the practical response capabilities of extended deterrence."

In the event North Korea carries out a major provocation during Biden's stay, the two leaders will immediately take command of the two countries' combined forces, he added.

Biden's first trip to the region as president also demonstrates his commitment to strengthening cooperation with allies on economics and trade.

During their summit, Yoon is expected to announce South Korea's participation in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, an initiative proposed by Biden to ensure secure and resilient supply chains, set the rules of the digital economy, and invest in clean, modern and high-standards infrastructure.

Perceptions that the proposal aims to exclude China from global supply chains have raised concerns that China could retaliate against South Korea -- as it did when the US deployed the THAAD antimissile system to South Korea in 2017.

But South Korea's presidential office has denied the characterization and dismissed China's concerns as an "overly sensitive" response.

Kim said the summit will see the two countries expand their military and economic alliance to a "technological" alliance as well.

Key business leaders, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Eui-sun and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, have been invited to a banquet with Yoon and Biden at the National Museum of Korea after the summit.

On Sunday, Biden will depart for Japan.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the trip comes at a "pivotal moment," as Biden seeks to demonstrate US leadership both in responding to Russia's war in Ukraine and in the "vital" Indo-Pacific region.

"He'll have the opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce two vital security alliances, to deepen two vibrant economic partnerships, to work with two fellow democracies to shape the rules of the road for the 21st century, and to thank his allies in Korea and Japan for their remarkable, and in some ways unexpected, contributions to the effort to support Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable," he told reporters Wednesday. (Yonhap)

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