Wednesday, January 19, 2022

    South Korea’s Moon to be second leader welcomed by Biden

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    South Korean President Moon Jae-in will on Friday become the second world, and Asian, leader welcomed by President Joe Biden at the White House, a sign of the importance Washington attaches to the region as it seeks to counter China’s influence.

    As well as the perennial North Korea nuclear issue, the allies will discuss regional security more broadly, cooperation in high-tech industries such as microchips, efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic and stronger action on climate change.

    Moon, under pressure at home over his COVID-19 response, will be hoping to secure an agreement with Washington for stop-gap supplies of vaccines, while the Biden administration is looking for enhanced climate commitments from Seoul.

    The two leaders are expected to have talks and then hold a joint news conference.

    Moon approached his Washington visit hoping it would provide fresh impetus to his dream of building peace with North Korea, but U.S. officials have played down the prospect of a dramatic fresh initiative.

    South Korean officials were heartened by Biden’s North Korea policy review, which called for a focus on practical diplomatic steps to reduce tensions while maintaining a final goal of persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

    A South Korean presidential official said a joint U.S.-South Korean statement will embrace a 2018 agreement between Moon and the North Korean leader that vowed to improve relations and work for complete denuclearisation of the peninsula.

    “We had made much contribution to the U.S. policy review, and endorsing the agreement could be a sign of their respect and acknowledgement,” the official told reporters in Washington.

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    Moon and Biden would also discuss abolishing a U.S. guideline that limits the range of any South Korean missiles up to 800 km (500 miles), and ways to boost civilian nuclear plant exports together, the official added.

    But the pandemic, economic and political challenges, and crises elsewhere have shifted the North Korea issue towards a rear burner, complicating Moon’s hopes of cementing a peacemaker legacy before leaving office next year.

    Washington would like to see a forthright statement from Moon on China’s ever more assertive behavior in the region. Last month, when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited, Biden sought to present a united front towards Beijing.

    Seoul has been cautious for fear of angering China, its top trade partner, and in a visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday, Moon stressed the importance of stable Washington-Beijing ties and China’s importance in connection with Korean Peninsula affairs.
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    A senior Biden administration official said Moon, who was accompanied by CEOs bringing investments in technology and batteries, high-tech semiconductors, would discuss issues associated with 5G and new-age logic chips, areas where Washington is seeking to boost competitiveness against China.

    Moon is looking to secure more and faster deliveries of U.S.-made vaccines to cover for supplies that will not be secured until the second half of the year. He has promised to secure a vaccine partnership at the summit by harnessing South Korea’s biotech production capacity.

    The White House has said Moon and Biden will discuss how the United States can support Seoul’s fight against COVID-19 and ways to jointly boost global vaccine production. But unanswered is whether South Korea will be a beneficiary when the United States starts shipping the tens of millions of vaccine doses it has promised to distribute worldwide.

    Biden’s Asia policy coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said summit outcomes would include “tangible partnerships related to addressing supply-chain security and enhancing public and private cooperation on advanced technology”.

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    On Thursday, Ford Motor Co (F.N) and South Korean battery maker SK Innovation (096770.KS) announced they would form a joint venture in North America to support the U.S. automaker’s electric vehicle rollout.

    And South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) could begin construction of a planned $17 billion U.S. chip plant in the third quarter of this year, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday.

    South Korea has set a target of reducing carbon emissions by 24.4% from the 2017 level by 2030 as part of its commitment under the Paris Agreement, but White House global climate policy official John Kerry has been pushing Seoul to double the target.

    A senior administration official said Washington was working with allies like South Korea on shared enhanced commitments and ambitions for 2030 and that there would be more to say about that on Friday.

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