Biden’s trip to Asia – Part 1

Alessandro Ponzetto | May 20th, 2022

Today we focused on Biden’s trip to Asia, which has the potential to give glimpses with regards to the administration’s strategy for the Indo Pacific. During the trip, he will first visit South Korea for three days, followed by a 2-day visit to Japan and the subsequent Quad meeting hosted by Tokyo. We will primarily pay attention to the first leg of the trip, covering the details currently available. We will follow up on Monday once more is available.

Immediately after arriving in the country, Biden went to the Pyeongtaek campus of Samsung Electronics to tour the world’s largest semiconductor production base, with Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong acting as chaperone. He also met there President Yoon Suk-yeol, who also toured the facility.

This tour shows the importance of synergy between South Korea and the US in terms of technology and investments, although chips are merely a part of a larger whole. Later in the visit, Biden will meet several of the most important business leaders in South Korea, with a particular focus on Hyundai Motor Group. This is because this auto manufacturer recently announced a $7.4 billion investment to boost EV production within the US, and specifically in Georgia.

While the economy is definitely front and centre during the visit, there are also other topics in the agenda. One is North Korea, which is currently facing a Covid crisis of its own (with Yoon offering aid, although the offer went unanswered), while the other is Japan, where Biden will travel next.

With regards to the Hermit Kingdom, the biggest concern is the deemed imminent nuclear test, with intelligence sources suspecting it will be concurrent to Biden’s visit. It would indeed be concerning, but Beijing is also not too happy about this development. As such, there may be an opening for cooperation between the two sides of the Pacific, potentially using Yoon as a go-between (given that Xi himself extended an invitation).

When it comes to the broad trip, there could be reasons to be cautiously optimistic when it comes to the economic side: the overt focus may put minds at rest, after seeing Washington de facto abandon the region when Trump abandoned the CPTPP early in his presidency. Still, a lot will depend on the exact details of the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and what kinds of strings it will have attached.

On the purely diplomatic side, the situation is different: due to how difficult the situation is. As we covered in ‘South Korea’s (impossible) balancing act’, the situation President Yoon is facing is complicated to say the least, and the trip is unlikely to yield meaningful results.

With this said, a lot here is mostly speculative and based on the limited information currently available. On Monday’s issue we will see how it went, and seeing ex post how the trip to South Korea actually went.

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