Harmony Returns as Moon Meets Biden

  • By Kim Ah-jin, Lee Yong-soo

    May 24, 2021 09:47

    President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden gave all the appearance of harmony last week in their first meeting since Biden took office, with each side throwing generous sops to the other to strengthen the historic alliance between their countries.

    They pledged technological and economic cooperation in semiconductors, 5G telecom networks and coronavirus vaccines, and Biden even agreed to send a special envoy to North Korea so Moon can save face in his desperate attempts to engage the North.

    President Moon Jae-in talks with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on May 21. /Newsis

    South Korea did not commit itself to joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad but signaled some support for the informal anti-China alliance headed by Washington with Australia, India and Japan.

    "With the technological landscape rapidly changing, we agree to strengthen our partnership on critical and emerging technologies to promote our shared security and prosperity," the two leaders said in a statement after talks last week.

    They stressed cooperation in the areas of semiconductors, electric car batteries, nuclear energy and pharmaceuticals. They also agreed to establish a "global vaccine partnership to strengthen joint response capabilities for infectious disease through international vaccine cooperation."

    President Moon Jae-in arrives in Seoul on Sunday after his trip to the U.S. /Yonhap

    Biden highlighted a combined investment plan of W44 trillion promised by LG Energy Solution, Samsung, SK Hynix and SK Innovation and asked their executives to stand up as he thanked them three times (US$1=W1,129).

    The two presidents also signed a joint statement about cooperation in the Straits of Taiwan and South China Sea, which are part of Biden's strategy to keep China in check. And while they said they will insist on the "full implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions by the international community" against North Korea, Moon's biggest coup was to persuade Biden to appoint a special envoy to North Korea, the veteran point man Sung Kim.

    He convinced the U.S. to agree in principle to "previous inter-Korean and U.S.-[North Korea] commitments" made in 2018 after talks with North Korea.

    The U.S. also lifted any restrictions on South Korean missiles for the first time in 42 years to bolster the alliance.

    But Biden distanced himself from his predecessor Donald Trump's fruitless charm offensives toward North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. "What I never do is I never make a judgment what a man or woman is going to do or not do based on what they said. We'll see. If he made any commitment, then I would meet with him," he told reporters at their joint press conference. "I'd have to know specifics."

    Talks were by all accounts amiable and ran over time, with Biden saying they enjoyed themselves so much that they lost track of the clock. Moon wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that it was the "best visit and best meeting," and government officials here said the outcome "fully satisfied expectations."

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