Biden pushes economic, security aims as he ends SKorea visit
SEOUL, South Korea — President Joe Biden tended to both business and security interests Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day trip to South Korea, first showcasing Hyundai’s pledge to invest at least $10 billion in the United States and later mingling with troops at a nearby military base. Biden visited Osan Air Base where thousands of U.S. military personnel monitor the rapidly changing North Korean nuclear threat.
“You’re the front line, right there in this room,” Biden said in a command centre with maps of the Korean Peninsula displayed on screens. It was a day that brought together two important messages that Biden wants to convey during his first trip to Asia.
In a time of high inflation, simmering dissatisfaction in the home, Biden stressed his global mission to strengthen America’s economy by convincing foreign companies such as Hyundai to open new operations in the United States. He wanted to show solidarity with his Asian allies, who live in the shadows of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. And he also questioned President Donald Trump’s security commitments.
Earlier Sunday, Biden brushed aside questions about any possible provocation by North Korea, such as testing a nuclear weapon or ballistic missile during his trip, saying, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”
Asked if he had a message for the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Biden offered a clipped response: “Hello. Period.”
It was another sharp departure from Trump, who once said he “fell in love” with Kim.
Biden made his first appearance at the event alongside Eusiun Chung, chairman of Hyundai. This was to highlight Hyundai’s increased investment in the United States. The company has also invested $5.5 billion in a battery factory in Georgia and an electric vehicle.
“Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but they’re also good for jobs,” Biden said. “And they’re good for business.”
Chung also said his company would spend another $5 billion on artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles and other technologies. The major U.S. investment made by a South Korean firm was an indication of how the two countries are leveraging their military ties to build a wider economic partnership.
Earlier in his trip, Biden toured a computer chip plant run by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that plans to build a $17 billion production facility in Texas.
Biden has made greater economic cooperation with South Korea a priority, saying on Saturday that “it will bring our two countries even closer together, cooperating even more closely than we already do, and help strengthen our supply chains, secure them against shocks and give our economies a competitive edge.”
The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has forced a deeper rethinking of national security and economic alliances. The shortages of computer chips, autos, and other goods caused by the Coronavirus epidemics can be fixed by more manufacturing in the US and with trusted allies, according to the Biden administration.
Hyundai’s Georgia factory is expected to employ 8,100 workers and produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually, with plans for construction to begin early next year and production to start in 2025 near the unincorporated town of Ellabell. But the Hyundai plant is a reminder that there are tradeoffs in pursuing Biden’s economic agenda.
The president tried to link electric vehicle production to automakers that have unionized workers. He called on Korean companies to employ union labor during his trip to the U.S. operations.
However, there has been no guarantee that the Hyundai Georgia plant’s workers will be unionized.
Georgia may be a “right to work” state. Workers are not required to join a union, or pay dues to a union, to get employment.
A Hyundai spokesperson didn’t respond to an email asking whether the Georgia plant would become unionized. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said there was no contradiction between Biden encouraging investors to embrace union workforces while his administration does “whatever it can” to encourage investment and bring jobs to the U.S.
Biden passed on visiting the demilitarized zone on the North and South’s border, a regular stop for U.S. presidents when visiting Seoul. According to Jake Sullivan, White House national security advisor, Biden had previously visited the DMZ while he was vice president. Now he is more interested in Osan Air Base.
While at base, Biden met with troops and their families at the bowling alley. He also indulged in his love for ice cream twice. First, chocolate chip, then vanilla and chocolat.
Biden, President Yoon Sook Yeol of Korea announced Saturday that they will be considering expanding joint military exercises to counter the nuclear threat posed North Korea.
The leaders have made a significant shift from their predecessors by pushing for deterrence through Yoon and Biden, who are less than two weeks into their presidency. Trump had previously considered ending the exercises and expressed his affection for Kim. Moon Jae-in, the last South Korean president, was committed to dialogue with Kim until the end of his term, despite being repeatedly rejected by the North.
Yoon ran on the promise to strengthen U.S.-South Korea relations. At a Saturday dinner in Biden’s honour, he reiterated that it was his goal for the relationship to “beyond security issues with North Korea,” which have long dominated it.
” I will try to design a new future vision for our alliances with You, Mr. President,” Yoon stated.
On Monday’s Japan leg of Biden’s trip, Yoon will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishhida and discuss his vision for negotiating the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a new trade deal. The trip’s central theme is to strengthen U.S.-Pacific alliances to counter China’s influence.
But within the administration, there’s an ongoing debate about whether to lift some of the $360 billion in Trump-era tariffs on China. Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury Secretary, recently stated that some tariffs do more harm to U.S. consumers and businesses than they do to China.
On Tuesday Biden will be in Japan for a summit of the Quad, a strategic alliance of four countries that also includes Australia, India, and China. The U.S. president will then be returning to Washington.
Associated Press writers Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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