President Joe Biden reunites with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol Saturday in Seoul for a packed day of diplomacy with the country’s new leader, who has only been in office for 11 days.
Biden began his day with a solemn gesture to honor Korea’s war dead, including in the Korean War. Biden donned white gloves and took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Seoul National Cemetery.
Then, he sprinkled three pinches of incense ash into an urn, followed by a moment of silence.
After that, it was onto some of the traditional diplomacy that Biden savors, with a formal meeting with Korea’s new president Yoon at the People’s House. President Yoon moved his officials offices from the Blue House to a compound to a defense ministry compound.
Biden and Yoon each wore masks during their outdoor greeting. South Korea has been dealing with its own coronavirus issues, and maintains an indoor mask mandate.
As the specter of a North Korean missile or nuclear test hangs over the trip, the White House indicated Saturday morning a new openness to provide North Korea with coronavirus aid despite the threats.
‘I think that we are very concerned about the COVID situation in the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. We are very sensitive to the fact that they appear to be facing a quite serious situation and I think you’ve seen we stand ready to work with others in the international community as needed to provide assistance, and that includes obviously the [Republic of Korea], but it includes others, using existing international mechanisms,’ a senior administration official said.
Earlier this month, then White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. had no plans to share COVID vaccines with North Korea.
On Saturday, a senior White House official didn’t take that off the table.
‘I think that it’s very clear that we have a common interest in doing whatever we can to address this challenge and working through the – with the international communities through whatever mechanism is appropriate,’ the official said.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (L) greets US President Joe Biden (R) prior to their meeting in Seoul, South Korea, 21 May 2022. Biden and Yoon were set to discuss security issues, North Korea, supply chain matters, and other issues
U.S. President Joe Biden places incense in the memorial flame during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Seoul National Cemetery to honor the sacrifice of Koreans who died to protect their country. It was his first public event Saturday at the start of his trip to Korea
Biden took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Seoul National Cemetery. The site honors soldiers including those who died in the Korean War
Biden took part in a wreath-laying ceremony
North Korea will be one of the top issue areas Biden will discuss with Yoon, a newcomer to politics, who spent his career as a prosecutor who led high-profile probes into some of his predecessor Moon Jae-in’s political aides.
Biden will have an afternoon bilateral meeting with Yoon and later attend a state dinner.
President Joe Biden (right) will spend Saturday with South Korea’s new leader, President Yoon Suk-yeol (left), who he toured a Samsung plant with Friday
New South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) spoke after the tour of the Samsung Electronics Pyeongtaek Campus in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, introducing President Joe Biden (left)
President Joe Biden (right) arrives at the Samsung Electronics Pyeongtaek Campus on Friday and greets South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol (left)
President Joe Biden (center) receives a tour Friday of the Samsung Electronics Pyeongtaek Campus in South Korea alongside (from left) Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong
President Joe Biden greets a worker at the Samsung Electronics Pyeongtaek Campus in Pyeongtaek, South Korea on Friday, his first stop in Asia
Air Force One with President Joe Biden arrives at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Friday to kick-off the president’s first tour of Asia since taking office in 2021
During their first meeting Friday evening, at Samsung’s Pyeongtaek Campus, Biden addressed a crowd and accidentally called Yoon ‘Moon,’ before correcting himself.
‘And President Moon – Yoon – you thank you everything you’ve done,’ Biden said.
Yoon won election, in part, because he said he’d take a tougher stance against North Korea.
Moon had tried to promote a peaceful reconciliation between the two Koreas.
Yoon pledged that he would not ease sanctions on his northern neighbor until leader Kim Jong Un made ‘active efforts in complete and verifiable denuclearization.’
At the same time, Yoon revealed an ‘audacious’ plan during his May 10 inaugural address to revive North Korea’s economy if Kim committed to denuclearization.
The U.S. and South Korea could use COVID assistance as an additional carrot, as North Korea has reported a whopping 1.72 million patients who have ‘fever’ symptoms – with 62 deaths – as of Tuesday.
South Korea has offered to send medical supplies including vaccines, tests and masks.
In the run-up to Biden’s trip – his first to Asia as president – National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was open about the fact North Korea could launch a missile or nuclear test while the president was in the region.
‘Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both in the days leading into, on or after the president’s trip to the region,’ said Wednesday from the podium.
‘We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan,’ he added.
North Korea has already conducted 15 ballistic missile tests this year, as well as seven nuclear tests.
South Korea’s spy agency said North Korea has been making preparations for another test.
South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin greets U.S. President Joe Biden as he arrives at Osan Air Base (ROK) in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, May 20, 2022
Pedestrians walk past banners calling for strength of the South Korea-US alliance near the US embassy in Seoul on May 20, 2022, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea
Biden toured the Samsung Electronics Co. semiconductor manufacturing plant in Pyeongtaek
He’s leaving the United States just days before the pandemic-era Title 42 policy is lifted
Biden did not stop to answer reporters’ shouted questions but waved before boarding his plane
On Thursday on board Air Force One, Sullivan said the U.S., South Korea and Japan – the country Biden is headed to next – had already prepared a joint response.
‘We are prepared for those eventualities, we are coordinated closely with both the ROK and Japan. We know what we will do to respond to them,’ Sullivan said.
He added that a North Korean missile or nuclear test ‘could cause the United States only to increase our fortitude in terms of defending our allies and cause adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region.’
‘As far as the trip is concerned, I think all it would do is underscore, it would underscore one of the main messages that we are sending on this trip, which is that the United States is here for our allies and partners,’ Sullivan said.
‘We are here to help provide deterrence and defense for the ROK and Japan. We will respond to any threats and any aggression decisively,’ he added.
Whatever North Korea dictator Kim’s plans, Biden plans to also focus on the alliance between the two large economies.
Biden’s first stop in South Korea Friday evening was to a Samsung micro-chip facility, which he toured alongside Yoon.
‘This is an auspicious start to my visit, because it’s emblematic of the future cooperation and innovation our nations can and must build together,’ Biden said, delivering remarks alongside Yoon after touring two parts of the enormous Pyeongtaek facility.
Biden and Yoon, along with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, toured a floor of the facility and received a technical briefing on how semiconductor wafers are made.
Biden mistakenly messed up the name of where Samsung is building a U.S. plant – calling it Tyler, not Taylor, Texas.
On Sunday, Biden will meet with the chairman of Hyundai Motor Group and deliver remarks on the company’s decision to invest in a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing plant in Savannah, Georgia.
It is certain that Russia’s war on Ukraine will come up, as Biden tries to keep allies unified in aiding Ukraine and trying to confront Russia through punitive sanctions.
Biden will sign the just-passed $40 billion Ukrain aid package while on the trip.
The Senate passed the bill while Biden was traveling to Asia on board Air Force One.
Meanwhile, Biden is looking to reaffirm his administration’s commitment to allies and partners in the region who fear China’s increased aggression against Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
Biden is skipping a trip to the DMZ on this trip – the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which separates North and South Korea.
He last visited the DMZ as president in 2013.
President Joe Biden (left), serving as vice president, visited the DMZ in 2013. He looked into North Korea with binoculars alongside granddaughter Finnegan Biden (right)
Former President Donald Trump (right) visited the DMZ in June of 2019 and was the first American leader to meet with a North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un (left), in the space between North and South Korea
More recently, former President Donald Trump went to the DMZ in June of 2019 and crossed into North Korea, making history by meeting Kim, a year after they first held talks in Singapore and several months after talks fizzled out in Vietnam.
On Thursday Sullivan told reporters it wasn’t too dangerous for Biden to go to the DMZ, but rather the president had been there, done that.
‘The president’s been to the DMZ before, it’s not too dangerous, no. In fact senior U.S. government officials go there on a regular basis,’ Sullivan told DailyMail.com. ‘He felt on this trip, rather than repeat that, he wanted an opportunity to actually see where the rubber hits the road in terms of U.S.-ROK forces sitting side-by-side are managing the theater. We will do that at the airbase.’
He’ll do this by making an appearance Sunday at the Air Operations Center’s Combat Operations Floor on Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, where Air Force One landed Friday evening.
After Saturday and Sunday’s meetings in South Korea, Biden will then travel to Japan to meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who’s been in that position since October.
The two leaders previously met on the sidelines of the G7 in March.
‘We believe that the U.S.-Japan alliance at this moment under these two leaders is at an all-time high. This visit can take us even higher,’ Sullivan said.
Biden’s overtures to South Korea and Japan, two Asian democracies, are to provide a counter-balance to rising China, which has gotten cozier with North Korea since nuclear talks ended with the last U.S. administration in 2019.
After taking office last year, Biden’s first world leader at the White House was Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, with South Korea’s former President Moon visiting a month later.
While in Tokyo, Biden will also participate in his second in-person meeting of the Quad, which includes the United States, Japan, India and Australia, another strategic alliance meant to keep China in check.
This will be the first time Kishida will participate, alongside Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Australia’s May 21 general election is complicating participation in the Quad meeting, as it will be held just three days before the Tokyo gathering is scheduled.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wouldn’t say on Wednesday who would represent Australia at the summit.
‘I believe that the Quad meeting will go ahead, I don’t have any more specifics than that,’ Jean-Pierre said at Wednesday’s briefing when asked about Australia’s participation.
Morrison is being challenged by Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese.
Also in Tokyo, the White House said Biden will release an ‘ambitious economic initiative for the region.’
First Lady Jill Biden beat her husband to Asia, traveling to Tokyo in July to appear at the summer Olympics.