WASHINGTON – The United States and South Korea are both willing to engage in diplomacy with North Korea to reduce tensions, said US President Joe Biden on Friday (May 21), adding that he was willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un under the right conditions.
Washington and Seoul also announced greater cooperation in producing more Covid-19 vaccines, securing semiconductor chip supply chains, and combating climate change, as Mr Biden met his South Korean counterpart, Mr Moon Jae-in.
Mr Moon was the second foreign leader to be hosted by Mr Biden since he took office, after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last month – a pair of visits that underscored the importance of both Asian allies to the Biden administration’s foreign policy.
Both leaders stressed that they were on the same page when it came to North Korea, with Mr Moon welcoming the Biden administration’s “calibrated and practical” approach to denuclearisation, and Mr Biden saying that the US would proceed in close consultation with South Korea.
Mr Biden also announced that veteran diplomat Sung Kim would be the new US special envoy for North Korea.
The diplomat, who has served as US ambassador to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea, was involved in the six-party talks and helped organise the 2018 meeting between then President Donald Trump and North Korean chairman Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Mr Moon welcomed his appointment, calling it a reflection of “the firm commitment of the US to exploring diplomacy and its readiness for dialogue with North Korea”, and said he expected a positive response from North Korea.
Progress on denuclearisation has largely stalled since the Singapore Summit in 2018, a landmark meeting that the pro-engagement Mr Moon was credited with helping bring to fruition.
The US and South Korea also agreed on a comprehensive partnership on Covid-19 vaccines which would boost the global supply of vaccines, said Mr Biden, adding that Washington would also supply vaccine doses for the 550,000 South Korean troops who engage with American forces on a regular basis.
Mr Moon has been seeking to boost South Korea’s vaccine production capability, given the difficulty of reaching Seoul’s goal of herd immunity in the country by November due to insufficient vaccine supply in the short term.
Without giving details, Mr Biden said that he and Mr Moon had discussed a partnership between one of America’s major vaccine producers and a Korean company, to produce more vaccine doses.
South Korean media reported that Samsung Biologics, the Samsung Group’s biopharmaceutical arm, and American drugmaker Moderna were set to seal a deal allowing Samsung to produce vaccine doses in South Korea.
The two leaders also discussed stronger cooperation with partners in the region, including Asean and the Quad grouping of the US, Australia, India and Japan, said Mr Biden.
“Multilateral cooperation is particularly important to coordinating an approach to the situation in Burma, as we work to pressure the junta to restore democracy for the people of Burma,” he added, using the old name for Myanmar.
Absent from the leaders’ public comments on Friday was any mention of China, despite media reports that the Biden administration had been pushing Seoul to take a harder line on Beijing.
Mr Moon said that he had not been pressured into taking a tougher stance on China’s posturing on Taiwan, and that the US and South Korea will work more closely to safeguard peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
After Mr Moon arrived at the White House, he and Mr Biden together awarded the Medal of Honour to 94-year-old Korean War veteran Ralph Puckett, a retired US army colonel, for his valour in a 1950 battle over a strategic hill.
It was the first time a foreign leader had attended a Medal of Honour ceremony, which Mr Biden called a testament to the strength of the US-South Korean alliance.