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Yoon-Biden April summit to mark 70th anniversary in alliance

Yoon's visit after thaw with Tokyo seen as step to consolidating trilateral security cooperation

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : March 8, 2023 - 15:37

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) shakes hands with US President Joe Biden at a summit held at a hotel in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on Nov. 13 last year. (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) shakes hands with US President Joe Biden at a summit held at a hotel in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on Nov. 13 last year. (Yonhap)

A highly anticipated summit scheduled between the leaders of South Korea and the US in April is expected to mark a turning point in their 70-year-old alliance, which faces various challenges from the Indo-Pacific region, including nuclear threats from North Korea.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has been invited by US President Joe Biden to make a state visit to the US with the aim of further strengthening the already strong economic and security ties between the two countries. This invitation follows Seoul's recent efforts to reconcile with Tokyo, paving the way for significant progress towards completing trilateral security cooperation.

The two leaders are anticipated to discuss a wide range of issues, including combined defense posture and extended deterrence, future advanced technologies and economic security, Yoon’s senior press secretary Kim Eun-hye said in a written statement on Tuesday night.

Yoon's upcoming visit to the US, which includes a state dinner on April 26, is poised to serve as a significant milestone for the bilateral alliance, enhancing its dynamic nature in preparation for the fast-evolving global landscape and the potential uncertainties that may arise in the future, Kim said.

The bilateral summit holds significant importance as it comes on the heels of efforts by Korea and Japan, two key allies of the US, to reconcile their strained relations. Korea took the first step towards reconciliation by compensating victims of Japan's wartime forced laborers. Yoon is also expected to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later this month, which will be seen as a significant gesture of goodwill.

“Yoon's successive visit to Japan in March, to the US in April and again to Japan to possibly attend the G-7 summit as an observer in May will culminate in the completion of trilateral security cooperation,” said Seo Jung-kun, a professor of political science and international relations at Kyung Hee University.

"The complete picture of Yoon meeting Kishida to define a future-oriented bilateral relationship, strengthening ties with the US, and ultimately joining the three leaders hand-in-hand in Japan could be considered the definitive edition of our new foreign policy," he said.

After the White House announced Biden’s invitation to Yoon, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that the US supported South Korea and Japan as they have worked to increase cooperation amongst each other, effectively strengthening the US-Korea-Japan trilateral partnership.

"South Korea's diplomacy is currently facing a crucial period as the post-Cold War era draws to a close and its effects are felt through China's expanding influence and Russia's invasion of Ukraine," said former Ambassador to the US, Ahn Ho-young.

National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han, who visits the US, has a press meeting at the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. on March 7. (Yonhap) National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han, who visits the US, has a press meeting at the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. on March 7. (Yonhap)

Given the current situation, Ahn believes that Yoon's Indo-Pacific strategy, which was released in December, was timely, and that the purpose of his visit to the US is to further strengthen and solidify the strategy. Yoon's Indo-Pacific strategy emphasizes key elements such as freedom, the rule of law and human rights, which are aligned with the US Indo-Pacific strategy. Additionally, Yoon's strategy emphasizes the importance of stronger alliances with the US and Japan.

National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han, who is currently visiting the US, told reporters in Washington D.C. that the upcoming summit will focus on safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula in the face of North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear and missile threats. His statement followed his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

The US has reiterated its firm commitment to extended deterrence against North Korea while also expressing the hope that the ongoing deployment of various strategic assets and joint training will "serve as an opportunity for the Korean people to trust the US defense commitment,” he said.

"The US aims to build trust in its defense commitments among the Korean people through the ongoing deployment of various strategic assets and joint training, while simultaneously reaffirming its steadfast commitment to extended deterrence against North Korea," he said.

Yoon and Biden are expected to hold discussions on economic ties.

According to a readout of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s meeting with Kim, they “emphasized continued cooperation to advance and protect our countries’ technology leadership, respond to economic coercion, and address vulnerabilities in supply chains, telecommunications infrastructure and cyber networks to ensure the continued prosperity of our allies and partners.”

Professor Suh said that Yoon's visit should focus on taking care of the practical interests of South Korea.

Seo noted that several Korean companies, including Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK, have established their factories in the US, generating employment opportunities and contributing to the US economy.

“In order to safeguard Korean companies from any potential harm caused by US trade protectionism and supply chain policies in the global market, Yoon should pay attention to the voices of businesses and demand specific measures to fulfill its requirements during his visit to the US.”

Kim told reporters that in order to further revitalize economic exchanges between Korea and the US, the two nations have agreed to engage in close communication and seek necessary measures to minimize any uncertainty or unfair treatment that Korean companies may face in the implementation of US industrial policies, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Chip Act.