South Korea's Moon voices 'great expectations' for ties with US under Biden

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has sent a congratulatory message to United States President-elect Joe Biden. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL - South Korean President Moon Jae-in has sent a congratulatory message to United States President-elect Joe Biden, voicing "great expectations" for the future of bilateral ties.

"Our alliance is strong and the bond between our two countries is rock-solid," Mr Moon wrote on Twitter.

"I very much look forward to working with you for our shared values. I have great expectations of advancing and opening up the future development of our bilateral relations."

"Katchi Kapshida! (Korean for let's go together)" Mr Moon added, repeating Mr Biden's ending note in his special contribution to Yonhap news agency ahead of the Nov 3 elections.

Mr Biden had promised that as president, he will "stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond", as well as "engage in principled diplomacy and keep pressing toward a denuclearised North Korea and a unified Korean Peninsula".

Mr Biden's victory is widely expected to restore balance to the Seoul-Washington alliance, which has been strained in the past few years.

Mr Donald Trump's "America First" administration has threatened to withdraw troops from South Korea and has squeezed Seoul to increase its share of defence costs and narrow trade surplus with the US.

Mr Lee Nak-yon, chairman of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party, voiced hopes for a "more solid" alliance with the Biden administration, and that the two allies will continue to work closely to achieve peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.

In a congratulatory message posted on Facebook, Mr Lee also expressed hope that the peace process on the Korean Peninsula "can be reactivated and the path towards permanent peace can be laid out as soon as possible".

The main opposition People Power Party (PPP), while congratulating Mr Biden, also urged the new US leader to "achieve tangible results" in pushing North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.

Experts said Mr Biden will probably reach out to Pyongyang through working-level talks, instead of engaging in personal diplomacy as Mr Trump has done.

Mr Trump has met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times since mid-2018, with South Korean leader Mr Moon playing the role of a mediator between them.

A Biden-Kim summit, however, is uncertain, according to Dr Lee Seong-hyon of the Sejong Institute think-tank.

"What is certain is that Biden is much more careful in dealing with Kim," Dr Lee told The Straits Times. "He will let his working-level officials test the waters first, he will not be in a hurry."

Ewha Womans University's international studies expert, Associate Professor Leif-Eric Easley, warned that Pyongyang's next move could be to conduct a provocative missile test as a "welcome gift" to Mr Biden when his presidency begins in January, before demanding financial benefits to reduce military tension.

To counter that, the US and its allies will need to coordinate their response to Pyongyang's upgraded long-range and submarine-based missiles, Prof Easley said.

He added that the new president will likely demand a "more modest increase in military cost sharing from Seoul" and seek to address trade disputes multilaterally, which "would be good news" for South Korean businesses.

"But the Biden administration will for some time be occupied with overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, so will also be sensitive to international burden sharing," he said.

"Seoul should thus avoid the impression that its alliance policy is 'Please protect us while we make peace with Pyongyang and make money with Beijing'."

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