South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden will meet for the first time on May 21 in Washington, according to the announcements made by both countries on Friday. This is the first ROK-U.S. summit to be held 121 days after the inauguration of Biden. It was announced that the two leaders will have in-depth discussions on global challenges, such as cooperation plans for North Korea policy, practical cooperation for economies and trade, climate change, and COVID-19. “President Moon’s visit will highlight the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and the broad and deep ties between our governments, people, and economies,” the White House statement said.
With the summit date set in place, the two countries will go through working-level discussions regarding specific schedules, agenda, and agreements to be made by the two countries. However, the issues to be aligned between South Korea and the U.S. are quite challenging. First of all, the two leaders have different priorities. President Moon wants the U.S. to resume the peace process based on conversations with North Korea, while President Biden wants South Korea to be on the side of the U.S. along with Japan and play a role in keeping China in check.
South Korea and the U.S. already pledged to come up with a ‘completely coordinated’ North Korea policy, but the two leaders’ recent statements have different tones. President Moon is repeatedly asking the U.S. to carry on the North Korea policy during the Donald Trump administration. However, President Biden is emphasizing ‘firm deterrence’ even though he leaves the door of diplomacy open to the North. Once the U.S.’s new policy toward North Korea is announced, the level of past policy cooperation will be revealed. However, there must be close coordination so that the two leaders will have the same voice during their meeting.
The U.S. is hoping for South Korea to participate in efforts to keep China in check in all areas, including economy, technology, and security. South Korea’s participation in Quad Plus, an expanded version of Quad that is an informal strategic dialogue between the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India, may be put on the agenda for the upcoming summit. South Korea is hesitant to participate due to China’s opposition but is actively examining participation in the U.S.-led efforts to reshuffle the semiconductor supply chain. South Korea should engage in pragmatic diplomacy by actively participating in multilateral cooperation, rather than sensitive security issues, to get support from the U.S. with urgent issues, such as vaccines.
Another important challenge is building a close relationship between the two leaders at the first meeting. President Biden is completely different from former President Trump whom President Moon met. Unlike his predecessor who invited a foreign country’s leader and did a one-man show, President Biden will be considerate and carefully listen. However, it does not mean that the U.S. president will make one-sided concessions. “It’s never ever, ever been a good bet to bet against America, and it still isn’t,” President Biden said during his first speech to the Congress on Wednesday.