US President Joe Biden arrived in Seoul on Friday to kick off his first Asia trip and was scheduled to have the first summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on a string of issues, and analysts said Biden may use the US-led Indo-Pacific economic framework and threats from North Korea as acting points to further pull South Korea closer. However, what benefits a geopolitical tool will bring to South Korea remains a question and many people alerted that standing unconditionally with the US will not maximize South Korea’s interests.
According to Yonhap News, after Biden arrived, he and Yoon visited a Samsung chip plant in Pyeongtaek, “underscoring the two countries’ commitment to working together to strengthen supply chains.” On Saturday, Biden and Yoon will meet again to discuss the full range of security and economic challenges facing them and the region.
Biden’s visit, which came 10 days after Yoon took his oath as South Korea’s president, is the second time for a US president to visit South Korea ahead of the new South Korea president’s visit to the US since 1993, and it’s also rare to see US president make South Korea the first destination before Japan in an Asia trip. Some observers said such arrangements underscored Biden’s scheme to pull South Korea into its strategies to contain China.
Even before Biden embarked on the Asia trip, the US and Japan had racked their brains to hype China topics. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday that Biden intends to seize the Asia trip – “this pivotal moment” – to assert “bold and confident American leadership” in the Indo-Pacific and send a message to China that the West and its Asian partners will not be divided and weakened. However, he also noted that the US wanted not so much to confront China on the trip.
In response to Biden’s Asia trip and Sullivan’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Friday that China hopes the US’ actions will be in line with its remarks. He urges the US to work with regional countries for cooperation and not to collude for divisions or confrontations, or bring chaos or disturbance to the region.
North Korea will be used as an acting point for the US to further pull South Korea closer, analysts said, as Yonhap News reported that topics on “the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs” will top the agenda of the leaders’ summit to bolster “combined defense and deterrence.”
Chung Youngjune, a South Korean scholar who now works in Tongji University, told the Global Times that the Yoon government may discuss restoring joint military drills with the US, of which the scale shrank during the Moon government, and reactivate the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) over the permanent deployment of US strategic assets to South Korea on a rotational basis.
Chung said that as there are presumptions on North Korea’s possible nuclear tests, the US and South Korea are very interested in strengthening military cooperation.
However, the main topics of the summit between South Korea and the US may still remain in economic security, not military security, as two countries want to improve cooperation in the supply chain of semiconductors and batteries, digital economy, setting technological standards, and clean energy, said Chung.
As one aspect of the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, launching the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is one of Biden’s main missions. One pillar of the IPEF is a stable supply chain and this is why Biden made Samsung his first stop in South Korea, Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
The IPEF, which was unveiled by Biden at the East Asia Summit last October to strengthen US economic cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners, is widely viewed as an anti-China coalition aimed at excluding China from global supply chains.
Samsung takes a large account of the global high-end chips and in November 2021, Samsung announced a site in Texas for its new $17 billion computer chip plant, amid a global shortage in semiconductors, which is the South Korean electronics giant’s biggest US investment.
To push the US-proposed Chip Alliance into reality, discussions between governments are not enough and companies should also be involved. This is why Biden went to Samsung to have interactions. Moreover, how to contain China is the unspoken tune of Biden’s trip and he may also send a message to Samsung to take back cooperating with China, Da said.