February 17, 2023
SEOUL – President Yoon Suk Yeol is expected to meet with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, as early as April for the third time following their November talks in Cambodia as the two allies eye a stronger alliance that could ride out deglobalization prompted by the escalating US-China rivalry.
On Thursday, Yoon’s office dismissed a Bloomberg News report that said a White House state dinner was scheduled for late April, saying the Biden administration has not officially corroborated it. The White House has yet to comment on the issue.
But the fact that Yoon’s office did not entirely rule out a state visit taking place led many to anticipate a meeting soon, where the two leaders are likely to discuss bolstering their political and economic ties ahead of marking their 70 years of relations in October.
Since December last year, Seoul has been pursuing to solidify its latest foreign policy that seeks a bigger global imprint by engaging with virtually every continent alongside Washington. It aims to focus on the Indo-Pacific region, where the US is trying to contain an increasingly assertive China, politically and economically.
Seoul and Washington are therefore most likely to reaffirm their commitment to denuclearizing North Korea, South Korea’s biggest security threat that last year fired off a record number of missiles. Many expect the US to reiterate its pledge to extended deterrence — Washington’s commitment to deterring or responding to attacks on its allies with its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear weapons.
Expanding business ties to combat supply chain constraints to come is also high up on the agenda. South Korea — home to tech giants such as Hyundai Motor and the world’s largest memory chipmaker Samsung Electronics — is a valuable supply chain partner for the US as it works on preventing China from accessing key technologies involving chips that could be used by the military.
Experts said the Korean and US leaders would debate the contentious US Inflation Reduction Act, which excludes electric vehicles made outside North America by Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia from federal tax credits. Allies have long called on Washington to make exceptions to the IRA, saying the rules unfairly discriminate against their EVs and hamper free trade.
“Seoul has repeatedly asked Washington to think it over, and I think the two leaders will come up with something more substantial there at the April talks if they take place,” said Park Ihn-hwi, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University, referring to previous remarks by US officials.
In early January, Second Vice Foreign Minister Lee Do-hoon and his US counterpart, Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Jose Fernandez, said the two allies were still working on easing the IRA rules, though no concrete steps were revealed at the time or have since been made public.
The two allies could jointly work on providing relief to war-torn Ukraine and quake-shaken Turkey, Park added. Whether Seoul would be more proactive in its outreach as to openly supply lethal weapons to Kyiv has been controversial for some time, so the proposal is unlikely to make the priority list on the agenda, according to Park. In late January, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg essentially asked Korea to join the 30-member military alliance in shouldering a greater military role.