President Joe Biden begins his first trip to Asia since taking office on Friday, despite some of his lowest domestic approval ratings, as he seeks to counter China’s saber-rattling and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden will spend two days in South Korea, where he will highlight new economic investments in the United States by some of the country’s leading companies, including Hyundai’s plans to open a plant in Georgia.
He then plans to fly to Tokyo for a meeting of an alliance of the United States, Australia, Japan, and India aimed at countering China’s growing military might. The war in Ukraine hangs over Biden’s four-day trip to the other side of the world, with leaders hoping to press Indian President Narendra Modi to take a firm stance against Russia’s invasion, and the US hoping that the global response to Moscow’s aggression will deter China from moving on Taiwan.
“The message we’re trying to send on this trip is an affirmative vision of what the world can look like if the democracies and open societies of the world stand together,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters Wednesday. “We believe that message will be heard throughout the world.” We believe Beijing will hear it.”
Concerns within the administration are growing that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test or launch an intercontinental ballistic missile to coincide with Biden’s visit. According to US officials, intelligence indicates that either or both scenarios are possible. If either of these scenarios occurs, it will be the first time in several years that North Korea has taken such a step.
Before Biden’s departure, Sullivan told reporters that the administration was ready to “make both short- and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as necessary” to deter Pyongyang from further provocations and defend US allies in the region.
At the same time, the US is keeping diplomatic dialogue with North Korea on the table, despite the fact that there has been little contact, and it could extend an offer to help with a Covid outbreak in the isolated country, including by providing vaccines.
Biden, for example, is not scheduled to visit the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. The White House did not say why. Officials from the White House said the trip’s focus will be on economic initiatives, noting that Biden visited the demilitarized zone as vice president.
Biden intends to meet with US troops stationed in the region.
Biden is scheduled to meet with newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and attend a state dinner while in Seoul. He’s scheduled to visit a Samsung factory as part of his emphasis on efforts in South Korea’s technology and manufacturing industries to relocate more operations — and jobs — to the United States.
Biden also plans to announce the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a new economic initiative aimed at expanding trade, fortifying supply chains, and combating climate change, according to the White House.
A meeting with the leaders of the so-called Quad, an alliance of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, is expected to take up a significant portion of the visit to Tokyo. In addition to meeting with his host, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden is expected to meet with Modi and the winner of Australia’s election on Saturday.
His trip to Asia is intended to demonstrate that, just as he has worked hard this year to keep European allies united in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, he can build a similar network of partners in the Eastern Hemisphere as a buffer against China — particularly any considerations of exercising China’s expanding military might.