May 22, 2022

Biden and South Korea president mull more military exercises

President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Suk-yeol, met over the weekend and declared their committment to the US-South Korea alliance and touted the US committment to defending Seoul from its neighbour to the north.

In a joint statement released as part of the president’s five-day trip to east Asia on Saturday the two leaders hinted at the possibility of expanding US military exercises with South Korean forces in response to continued belligerent actions by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

“[C}onsidering the evolving threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), both leaders agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula,” reads the statement.

It continued: “Both leaders also reaffirm the commitment of the U.S. to deploy strategic U.S. military assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary, as well as to enhance such measures and identify new or additional steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of DPRK destabilizing activities.”

The statement is a signal that the Biden administration as well as presidency of Mr Yoon are committed to a hardline approach to North Korea’s government, which saw relations with the US thaw under Donald Trump only to drop off after a lack of progress was made during historic direct negotiations initiated by the ex-president.

Among the issues contributing to that thaw in relations was the suspension of US-South Korea military exercises by the Trump administration. At the time, Mr Trump complained about the supposedly terrible expense incurred by these joint exercises, and blamed them for being “very provocative” to the North. Pentagon officials speaking anonymously to Reuters at the time set the price tag for joint US-South Korea military exercises at around $14m per occurrence, though little details were given about what went into that calculation.

The current US president did, however, leave open the door to future talks with Kim Jong Un. Asked by pool reporters what his message for Kim was, he replied, “Hello…period”, and added that he would meet with the North Korean dictator if Mr Kim indicated he was “sincere” about a willingness to disarm his nuclear arsenal.

Mr Biden is in the region shoring up US support with allies and pressure not only North Korea but China, which is seeking to limit American influence in the region.

North Korea’s belligerence has risen to the top of the agenda, however, following news delivered by national security adviser Jake Sullivan last week indicating that US intelligence believes North Korea may initiate a weapons test of some kind concurring or after Mr Biden’s visit to the region.

A previous ballistic missile test conducted in 2017 by North Korea resulted in a projectile being fired across Japan, where Mr Biden is now.

The rogue dictatorship state fired off three ballistic missiles earlier in May as part of what looks like a spike in weapons tests conducted by Pyongyang.

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