North Korea

South Korea’s Yoon and Biden likely to discuss nuclear deterrence, trade at summit


On trade, friction with China may inadvertently harm South Korean tech sector

South Korea’s Yoon and Biden likely to discuss nuclear deterrence, trade at summit

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol greets U.S. President Joe Biden prior to a summit meeting at the Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea May 21, 2022.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol is in the United States this week for a state visit to mark Seoul’s 70-year alliance with Washington and for talks with President Joe Biden will likely focus on trade and deterrence against North Korean nuclear capabilities, experts told Radio Free Asia.

Yoon, who arrived in Washington on Monday, attended an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday where he said that the U.S.-South Korea alliance should ““evolve into a supply chain and future-oriented, innovative-technology alliance,” Reuters reported. 

But security will be the major topic of Wednesday’s summit with Biden.

To that end, Biden is expected to underscore Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea, and announce new strategies on nuclear deterrence efforts at a time when Pyongyang is ramping up tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Experts have speculated that the North could soon stage its seventh nuclear test.

“I believe that President Biden will assure President Yoon of America’s unwavering commitment to South Korea’s defense, including a strong statement on extended nuclear deterrence,” said Harry Harris, a former ambassador to South Korea. “This could involve combined consultation and coordination.”

The two leaders could explore deterrence through “NATO-like lines of effort,” said Patrick Cronin, security chair at the Hudson Institute in Washington.  

“These lines of effort include demonstrating alliance solidarity, foremost by elevating South Korea’s influence in collective defense planning, forward deployment of advanced conventional and strategic platforms, and preparedness for scenarios involving nuclear weapons,” he said. 

“Seoul should come away with a sense its voice will be heard in potential contingency responses and in the command, control, and consultation over possible nuclear use,” Cronin said

Robert Rapson, the former Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at U.S. Embassy Seoul, said he anticipates that discussions on deterrence would likely only reinforce existing policies.

“Despite all the rhetoric and buildup in advance of the summit, I don’t think we’ll see any dramatic changes in U.S. extended deterrence policy and its application with Korea,” said Rapson. 

“I don’t see any moves towards adopting a NATO-like nuclear sharing arrangement nor re-stationing of US strategic assets in Korea.  This may fall short of Yoon administration hopes and expectations.”

Tech competitiveness

Trade friction with China is another topic that Biden and Yoon will also likely discuss, as policies intended to strengthen the competitiveness of the U.S. tech sector relative to China’s will inadvertently make South Korean tech less competitive in the American market.

“The two sides will discuss ways to advance the Biden administration’s efforts to block China’s access to critical high technology and semiconductors while not negatively impacting South Korea’s semiconductor industry, which relies significantly on China and investments there,” said Frank Aum of the United States Institute of Peace. 

“There will also be broader discussions about how to strengthen supply chain resilience in general, including greater South Korean investments into the United States,” he said.

Following Wednesday’s summit, Biden will host Yoon for a state dinner at the White House. 

On Thursday, Yoon is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress, and on Friday he will head to Cambridge to tour the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and deliver a speech at Harvard University. Yoon will fly back to Seoul on Saturday. 

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