Biden, Yoon laud chips partnership

US President Joe Biden (left) touring the Samsung factory in Pyeongtaek on May 20, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - United States President Joe Biden has lauded the importance of partnership with South Korea in chips making, as he embarked on an Asia trip to rally support from regional partners to keep China in check.

The five-day trip, his first visit to Asia as President, will also take him to Japan.

Arriving in South Korea on Friday (May 20), Mr Biden headed straight to Pyeongtaek, 70km south of Seoul, to visit tech giant Samsung’s largest semiconductor manufacturing plant.

He was welcomed by newly-inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Samsung vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong.

“Our two nations work together to make the best and most advanced technologies in the world, and this factory is proof of that,” Mr Biden said in a speech after the tour, noting that Samsung will invest US$17 billion (S$23.5 billion) to build a similar facility in Texas.

“That gives both (South) Korea and the United States a competitive edge in the global economy if we can keep our supply chain resilient, reliable and secure.”

Mr Yoon noted that the US-South Korea chips partnership which started in 1974 is as deep as the security alliance between them. 

“With today’s visit, I hope that US-South Korea relations will be reborn as an economic and security alliance based on cooperation in advanced technology and supply chains,” he said.

Mr Yoon also pledged full support and incentives for the country’s semiconductor industry, which he described as a “national security asset”.

The factory visit is deemed a sign of US-South Korea solidarity against China’s growing reach in chips and to flaunt to Beijing the close ties between Washington and Samsung, amid US efforts to fix a domestic shortage of chips.

Next week in Tokyo, Mr Biden is slated to launch the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) aimed at strengthening US economic cooperation with its Indo-Pacific partners, such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and build a global supply chain without China.

During his speech, Mr Biden said the US will work with like-minded countries with shared values, like South Korea, to “secure more of what we need from our allies and partners, and bolster our supply chain resilience.”

He will hold a summit with Mr Yoon to discuss issues such as North Korea’s growing nuclear threat and come up with a plan to strengthen US “extended deterrence” - which refers to the deployment of US assets to defend an ally.

Mr Yoon is expected to announce South Korea’s participation in the IPEF, an initiative that is feared to anger Beijing and trigger economic retaliation against Seoul.

However, Mr Yoon has said that the IPEF is not a zero-sum game and “we just need to build good economic ties in our relationship with China as well”.

The two leaders have plans to visit a major Air Force operations centre in Pyeongtaek on Sunday, before Mr Biden leaves for Japan.

Mr Joe Biden meeting South Korea's Foreign Minister Park Jin upon arriving at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek. PHOTO: AFP

In Tokyo, Mr Biden will hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. They will also meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and whoever wins Australia’s national elections on Saturday for a summit of the Quad grouping, which Beijing sees as a ploy to contain its influence.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden’s trip comes at a “pivotal moment” as he seeks to demonstrate US leadership in the region.

“He’ll have the opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce two vital security alliances, to deepen two vibrant economic partnerships, to work with two fellow democracies to shape the rules of the road for the 21st century,” said Mr Sullivan.

The fact that Mr Biden is visiting Seoul first before Tokyo, after hosting the leader of Japan first before South Korea last year, sends a signal that “Washington treats both Tokyo and Seoul as equally important allies”, according to visiting scholar Lee Seong-hyon of Harvard University’s Fairbank Centre.

However, he said this is a “mixed blessing” because South Korea will now be “expected to play a more significant role in and contribute to the US Indo-Pacific strategy”, which might antagonise China. 

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