Biden in Asia: President pushes economic and security goals as he ends South Korea visit

SEOUL, South Korea — President Joe Biden took care of both business and security concerns on Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day trip to South Korea, first presenting Hyundai’s pledge to invest at least $10 billion in the United States and later among themselves Troops shuffle to a nearby military base.

Biden’s visit to Osan Air Base, where thousands of U.S. and South Korean military personnel are monitoring the rapidly evolving North Korean nuclear threat, was his last stop before arriving in Tokyo later Sunday.

“You are the front line, right here in this room,” the president said in a command center where maps of the Korean peninsula were projected onto screens on a wall.

It was a day that brought together two key messages that Biden is trying to get across during his first trip to Asia as president.

At a time of high inflation and simmering domestic discontent, Biden emphasized his global mission to strengthen America’s economy by persuading foreign companies like Hyundai to open new operations in the United States. And he wanted to show solidarity with nervous Asian allies living in the shadow of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and skeptical of US security commitments during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Earlier Sunday, Biden brushed aside questions about possible provocations by North Korea, such as testing a nuclear weapon or ballistic missile during his trip, saying, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”

When asked if he had a message for the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Biden replied curtly, “Hello. Point.”

It was another sharp departure from Trump, who once said he was “in love” with Kim.

Biden’s first appearance that day was alongside Hyundai Chairman Eusiun Chung to highlight the company’s expanded investments in the United States, including $5.5 billion for an electric vehicle and battery factory in Georgia.

“Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but also good for jobs,” said Biden. “And they’re good for business.”

Chung also said his company will spend another $5 billion on artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles and other technologies.

The major US investment by a South Korean company reflected how the countries are bringing their long-standing military ties to a broader economic partnership.

Biden began his trip by touring a computer chip factory owned by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that plans to build a $17 billion manufacturing facility in Texas.

Biden has made greater economic cooperation with South Korea a priority, saying on Saturday, “It will bring our two countries even closer, work even more closely together than we already do and help strengthen our supply chains, protect them from shocks.” protect and give our economies a competitive edge.”

The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February have forced a deeper rethink on national security and economic alliances. Coronavirus outbreaks have created shortages of computer chips, cars and other goods that the Biden administration says can ultimately be fixed by doing more production domestically and with trusted allies.

Hyundai’s Georgia plant is expected to employ 8,100 people and produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually. Construction is slated to begin early next year and production to begin in 2025 near the unincorporated town of Ellabell.

But the Hyundai plant shows that there are also trade-offs when Biden pursues his economic agenda.

The president has attempted to link electric vehicle production to automakers with unionized labor, and during his trip urged Korean companies to hire unionized labor for their US operations.

However, there is no guarantee that workers at the Hyundai Georgia plant will be unionized.

Georgia is a “right to work” state, meaning workers may not be required to join a union or make payments to a union as a condition of employment.

A Hyundai spokesman did not respond to an email asking if the Georgia plant would be unionized. A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity said there was no contradiction between Biden’s encouraging investors to unionize while his administration is “doing everything it can” to encourage investment and bring jobs to the United States

Biden refrained from visiting the demilitarized zone on the north and south borders, a regular stop for US presidents on visits to Seoul. Biden visited the DMZ as vice president and is more interested in seeing Osan Air Base, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

While on base, Biden chatted with the troops and their families at the bowling alley and indulged his passion for ice cream — doubly so. First chocolate chip, then vanilla and chocolate.

Biden and Korean President Yoon Sook Yeol announced Saturday that they will consider expanded joint military exercises to ward off the North Korean nuclear threat.

The push for deterrence by Biden and Yoon, less than two weeks into his presidency, marks a departure by leaders from their predecessors. Trump had considered scrapping the drills and expressed affection for North Korea’s Kim. And South Korea’s last president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim until the end of his term, despite repeated rebuffs from the North.

Yoon advertised with the promise to strengthen relations between the US and South Korea. He reiterated at a dinner in Biden’s honor on Saturday that his goal is to take the relationship with North Korea “beyond security issues” that have long dominated the relationship.

“I will try to chart a new future vision of our alliances with you, Mr. President,” Yoon said.

During the Japan leg of Biden’s trip, he will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday and set out his vision for negotiating a new trade deal, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Shortly after arriving in Tokyo Sunday night, Biden visited the US mission chief’s residence to attend a room dedication for Norman Mineta, the late US Secretary of Transportation.

Mineta, a former Democratic congressman who served in both the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton cabinets, died earlier this month. He was the son of Japanese immigrants, and he and his family were among those held in Japanese internment camps by the US government during World War II.

A key theme of the trip is strengthening US alliances in the Pacific to counter China’s influence in the region.

But there is an ongoing debate within the administration over whether to lift some of the $360 billion in Trump-era tariffs on China. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently said some of the tariffs would hurt US businesses and consumers more than China.

On Tuesday, Japan hosts Biden at a summit for the Quad, a strategic alliance of four countries that also includes Australia and India. The US President will then return to Washington.


Associated Press writers Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Biden in Asia: President pushes economic and security goals as he ends South Korea visit

Dais Johnston

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