SOUTH KOREA: PRESIDENTS BIDEN AND MOON ASK, “CAN’T WE ALL GET ALONG?”

AIDAN SMITH-FAGAN WRITES — President Joe Biden hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House last Friday. After a day that included a medal of honor ceremony and a long, private discussion between the two heads of state, Biden and Moon held a joint press conference at which both emphasized the need for a close relationship and collaboration between South Korea and America. Biden in particular emphasized the strength of the 70-year alliance and its importance for “the United States, the future of the Indo-Pacific region, and quite frankly to the world.”

The press conference covered a wide range of coordinated US-South Korean diplomatic, technological, and global health initiatives. Biden and Moon reiterated a shared concern over North Korea’s nuclear program, with Biden saying that the US President was “deeply concerned” about Pyonyang’s buildup of nuclear weapons. He also noted that both the US and the ROK are ready to “take pragmatic steps” to engage with North Korea in order to reduce tensions.

President Moon echoed Biden’s sentiments, affirming that “the most urgent common task that our countries must undertake is complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.” Moon also praised Biden’s announcement of career diplomat Sung Kim as the US special envoy to North Korea. Moon said he was enthusiastic about Ambassador Kim’s appointment and had “high expectations” for future dialogue with North Korea. That comment perhaps reflects the high premium President Moon has put on reaching some kind of deal with North Korea. In a May 10th address to the South Korean people, Moon called the remaining year of his presidential term “the last opportunity to move from an incomplete peace toward one that is irreversible.”

Moon and Biden also presented several joint COVID-19 initiatives. Notably, President Moon announced that “America’s advanced technology and Korea’s production capabilities will be married” in a partnership to increase global vaccine supply. Although specifics were not given, President Moon stated that a major US vaccine manufacturer would partner with South Korean biomedical producers to create vaccines for South Korea, the Indo-Pacific, and the world.

Moon also revealed that America will be providing COVID vaccines to South Korean military servicemen and women. The plan will see the US giving vaccines to 550,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen who work alongside US forces in South Korea.

On the technological front, Biden praised the recently unveiled $39 billion which LG, Samsung, SK, and Hyundai plan to invest in America as a job creator for the US economy. Biden and Moon also highlighted long-term collaboration between the US and South Korea on 5G and 6G broadband.

In keeping with the theme of coordination and cooperation, the two leaders touched on several other long-term international goals. President Moon reaffirmed the joint US-South Korea commitment to confronting climate change, noting that Seoul will be hosting the P4G summit at the end of the month. Both leaders also reiterated broad diplomatic and security commitments toward a free and open Indo-Pacific and reaffirmed the need to resist attempted “coercion” in the South China Sea (a reference to China’s increased naval presence in the region).

It was a long day and a long meeting resulting in a long wish list of bilateral collaboration and communication. Let’s hope it was not too much to ask.

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