US President Joe Biden leaves for Asia under the nuclear shadow of Ukraine and North Korea
US President Joe Biden traveled to South Korea and Japan on Thursday to cement US leadership in Asia at a time when the White House’s focus has shifted to Russia and Europe – and amid fears of a North Korean nuclear test during his trip.
Biden wants the trip to build on recent moves accelerating a years-long U.S. pivot to Asia, where China’s growing commercial and military power is undermining Washington’s dominance.
But underscoring Europe’s competing demands, Biden met just before his departure with the leaders of Finland and Sweden to celebrate their demands for NATO membership – a seismic development sparked by the invasion of Ukraine. by Russia.
In another sign of growing US involvement in the conflict, the White House said Biden would put his signature to a massive $40 billion Ukrainian arms and aid package while in Asia. Thursday by Congress.
Signing the bill ‘quickly’ will ensure there is no disruption to the flow of funding, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Seoul .
A distinct crisis awaits Biden upon his arrival, however – nervousness that North Korea’s unpredictable leaders will choose his trip as a time to test a nuclear-capable missile or even a test nuclear explosion.
Despite a spiraling Covid outbreak, “Pyongyang’s preparations for a nuclear test are complete and they are only looking for the right moment,” South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said after being briefed by the agency. spying on Seoul.
Sullivan said there was “a real risk of some sort of provocation while we’re in the region, whether in South Korea or Japan.”
“We know what we will do to respond to it. We have communicated not only with our allies, but also with China,” he said.
Biden will travel to Japan from South Korea on Sunday. He will meet with leaders of both countries and attend a regional summit of the Quad – a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States – in Tokyo.
In the first leg, he will visit American and South Korean troops, but will not make the traditional presidential trek to the fortified border known as the DMZ between South Korea and North Korea, it said. the White House.
Hours before Biden’s arrival, newly elected and strongly pro-American South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol signaled a warm welcome, tweeting: “A mountain shows its way to the top to those who seek it. I am confident that the ROK-US alliance that seeks to uphold the values of democracy and human rights can only rise in the future.”
Sullivan said before the trip that Biden was heading to Asia with “the wind at his back” after the success of American leadership in the Western response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has now lasted for nearly three months.
The high military, diplomatic and economic cost imposed on Russia is seen in Washington as a cautionary tale for China, given Beijing’s stated ambitions to seize control of democratically-ruled Taiwan, even if it means going to war. .
Earlier this month, CIA Director William Burns said Beijing was watching “carefully”.
“I think they were struck by the way the transatlantic alliance, in particular, came together to impose economic costs on Russia as a result of this aggression,” he said.
Sullivan said the administration doesn’t want to confront China on the trip so much as to use Biden’s diplomacy to show that the West and its Asian partners won’t be divided and weakened.
He pointed to the cooperation of South Korea and Japan, among others, in the sanctions regime against Russia led by European powers and the United States. He also discussed Britain’s role in the recently created AUKUS security partnership.
This “powerful message” will be “heard in Beijing,” Sullivan said, “but it’s not a negative message and it’s not targeting any particular country.”
North Korean wild card
Sullivan said the United States was preparing for North Korea to defy UN sanctions again by conducting a nuclear test.
If that happens, the US response will be coordinated with South Korea and Japan, Sullivan said, adding that Washington has also been in contact with Beijing.
That could include triggers “for adjustments to how our military is positioned in the region,” Sullivan said.
But he denied that a North Korean nuclear test would be seen as a setback for Biden’s diplomacy.
“It would underscore one of the main messages we are sending on this trip, which is that the United States is here for our allies and partners.”
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