“The alliance between the United States and South Korea goes beyond the North Korean threat”

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On board his “Air Force One” plane, Joe Biden arrived this Friday, May 20 in South Korea. This is his first tour of Asia as President of the United States. Faced with China, Joe Biden intends to affirm American ambitions in the region. But the shadow of a North Korean nuclear test hangs over this trip. Decryption with Antoine Bondaz, director of the Korea program at the Foundation for Strategic Research.

RFI: According to Washington, North Korea could take advantage of this visit by Joe Biden to send a strong signal. Despite the wave of Covid-19 in the country, “ preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and [les Nord-Coréens] just looking for the right moment » to achieve it, it is estimated in Seoul. Will dictator Kim Jong-un dare such a provocation?

Antoine Bondaz: It is not at all inconceivable to imagine that North Korea seeks to send a strong message to the United States and to provoke the Americans, with the aim of resuming negotiations where they left off in 2019. understand that North Korea has never stopped its ballistic tests for three years now, that it has multiplied its short-range ballistic tests and has also carried out a long-range missile test, the first since 2017 .

Carrying out a test at this time would then send an extremely strong message to the United States, to say that not only is the ballistic program continuing in North Korea, but also that Pyongyang is not in a weak position. despite the wave of Covid-19 that is overwhelming the country right now.

If this were to happen, what could be the response of the United States ?

What is clear is that Washington’s reaction would be just as determined. Of course, this would first be a diplomatic response with condemnation and potentially additional sanctions. But there will also be a military response, since any test during Joe Biden’s visit or even outside of this visit would lead to the redeployment of part of the American forces in the region, in order to demonstrate the American determination to face any threat, should such a threat materialize.

Instead of going to the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, President Biden began, upon his arrival, a visit to a giant Samsung semiconductor factory with his new South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-Yeol. South Korea accounts for around 70% of the world’s production of these components. Is this a big issue at a time when the supply chain is experiencing hiccups?

It is indeed very symbolic that President Joe Biden did not go to the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, where all the other American presidents in office had gone. 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 the defense of common values. But it is also a partnership on the issue 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 included in technology.

What can South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol expect from this visit?

This visit is extremely good for the new South Korean president. First, he has been in power for less than two weeks. Second, it is very symbolic that Joe Biden is going to Seoul first and only then to Tokyo. The objective for Yoon Suk-yeol is to show that under his mandate, there will be a rapprochement with the United States, against North Korea, but more broadly also against China. South Korea’s objective 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 meet in Tokyo for a summit of the “Quad”, 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?

Obviously, India’s ambiguous position on the war in Ukraine limits cooperation in this format. It is unlikely that there will be a joint statement from the Quad extremely critical of Russia. Ukraine will be discussed, but we will have to look closely at the language elements in the joint declaration.

This rapprochement between the countries that form the Quad was born first of all from a common concern about China. Obviously, this partnership will intensify and diversify. We have seen that since Joe Biden came to power, questions of infrastructure or vaccine production are now dealt with at the Quad level.

The other question that will arise during this meeting: will South Korea, which seeks proximity with the United States, eventually join the Quad? What is more likely than a membership is that it will partner with the Quad on certain matters of common interest. We could then speak not of a “Quad +” but of a “Quad X”, also open to other countries, including South Korea.


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