Joe Biden arrived on his “Air Force One” on Friday, May 20, in South Korea. This is his first tour in Asia as President of the United States. Confronting China, Joe Biden intends to assert American ambitions in the region. But the shadow of the North Korean nuclear test hangs over this trip. Decoding with Antoine Bondaz, Director of the Korea Program at the Strategic Research Foundation.
Question: According to Washington, North Korea could use Joe Biden’s visit to send a strong signal. Despite the Covid-19 wave in the country, “ Preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and [les Nord-Coréens] Just looking for the right moment » To achieve this, he was appreciated in Seoul. Would dictator Kim Jong Un dare such a provocation?
Antoine Bondaz: It is not at all unreasonable to imagine that North Korea seeks to send a strong message to the United States and provoke the Americans, with the goal of resuming negotiations where they left off in 2019. Understand that North Korea has never stopped its ballistic tests in three years now, doubling its short ballistic tests range and also conducted a long-range missile test, its first since 2017.
A test at this time would send a very strong message to the United States, to say that not only does North Korea’s ballistic missile program continue, but also that Pyongyang is not in a vulnerable position. Despite the wave of Covid-19 This is sweeping the country now.
If this happened, what would the response of the United States be ?
What is clear is that Washington’s response will be just as decisive. Of course, this would first be a diplomatic response with condemnation and possible additional sanctions. But there will also be a military response, because any test during Joe Biden’s visit or even outside this visit will lead to the redeployment of part of the American forces in the region, to show the American determination to confront any threat, such a threat must come true.
Instead of going to the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, President Biden, upon his arrival, began a visit to the giant Samsung semiconductor factory with his new South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk Yeol. South Korea accounts for about 70% of the world’s production of these components. Is this a huge problem at a time when the supply chain is experiencing hiccups?
It is really symbolic that President Joe Biden did not go to the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, where all other American presidents have gone in office. Biden went to visit this Samsung factory. The message is that the alliance with South Korea goes beyond the North Korean threat, it is part of defending shared values. But it is also a partnership on the topic of high technologies, at a time when the United States, in relation to Taiwan or even South Korea, is seeking to form a kind of “Western camp” against China, including its inclusion in technology.
What can South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol expect from this visit?
This visit is very good for the new South Korean president. First, he’s been in power for less than two weeks. Second, it is very symbolic for Joe Biden to go to Seoul first and only then to Tokyo. Yoon Suk-yeol’s goal is to show that under his mandate, there will be rapprochement with the United States, against North Korea, but on a larger scale also against China. South Korea’s goal is to strengthen this alliance with the United States, without seeking confrontation with China.
Tuesday, May 24, the leaders of the United States, India, Japan and Australia gathered in Tokyo for the “Quartet” summit, this forum for security dialogue. Will they show unity in the face of the war in Ukraine while India still refuses to condemn the Russian invasion?
It is clear that India’s ambiguous position on the war in Ukraine limits cooperation in this form. It is unlikely that there will be a joint statement from the Quartet highly critical of Russia. Ukraine will be discussed, but we will have to look closely at the language elements of the joint declaration.
This rapprochement between the countries that make up the Quartet was born primarily of a common interest in China. It is clear that this partnership will intensify and diversify. We’ve seen that since Joe Biden took office, issues of infrastructure or vaccine production are now being dealt with at the quadruple level.
Another question that will arise during this meeting: Will South Korea, which seeks rapprochement with the United States, eventually join the Quartet? More likely than membership is that it will share with the Quartet certain issues of common interest. We can then talk not about “Quadruple +” but about “Quadruple X”, which is also open to other countries, including South Korea.