Bae Hyun-jin, the spokesperson of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, announced on Thursday that the president-elect and U.S. President Joe Biden will hold their first summit on May 21. The White House also made an official announcement that President Biden will visit South Korea and Japan from May 20 to May 24. It is a very speedy development as the summit will be held just 11 days after the launch of the Yoon administration. “It will be a historical turning point for the comprehensive strategic alliance between the two countries to further develop,” said Bae.
While the summit was moved forward due to President Biden’s plan to attend the Quad summit, a meeting among the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India, it has an excellent timing given the urgency on the Korean Peninsula caused by North Korea’s recent nuclear and missiles provocations. This must be why the U.S. president will start his first trip to Asia with South Korea, rather than Japan, where the Quad summit will be held.
North Korea made it a lot easier for the country to use nuclear weapons, raising the level of its threats to other countries. The country may engage in large-scale provocations, such as the seventh nuclear test, targeting the new administration’s launch in South Korea and President Biden’s visit. The leaders of South Korea and the U.S. should show the strength of the alliance, which can be demonstrated as stronger extended deterrence and the normalization of joint drills, by standing side by side and send a warning that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threats will not work.
The agenda that the two leaders should tackle is not limited to responses to North Korea. It is an opportunity to show the united determination of the key countries of the Free World sharing the values of democracy and human rights as the New Cold War began to take hold due to intensifying strategic conflicts between the U.S. and China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The summit could also be a way to upgrade the two countries’ relationship to a comprehensive strategic alliance by expanding humanitarian assistance to Ukraine beyond cooperation for the global supply chain, stronger trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, and South Korea’s gradual joining of Quad.
The U.S. has high expectations for the new South Korean administration to be led by Yoon. In particular, it is asking South Korea to play an active role by participating in the Indo-Pacific Strategy to keep China in check. It fits well with the new administration’s vision to become a global hub country. However, diplomatic frictions may be experienced during the process of pursuing it. Therefore, a sophisticated approach to control the speed while maximizing national interests is desperately needed. While President Biden is an experienced diplomatic expert, President-elect Yoon lacks expertise in diplomacy. Rigorous preparation is needed for the next three weeks.