Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden will hold summit on May 21
Biden is expected to visit Seoul from May 20 to 22, Yoon's transition team said Thursday, on his first trip to Asia since taking office in January 2021.
Yoon will be inaugurated on May 10 and the summit 11 days later will be unusually fast for an American president and a new Korean leader.
After Seoul, Biden will go to Tokyo from May 22 to 24 for a meeting of leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad. Quad is a U.S.-led cooperative forum with India, Japan and Australia, seen as a security partnership designed to contain China.
Yoon "welcomes" Biden's visit to Seoul and expects it to become a "historical turning point to further develop the comprehensive strategic alliance between the two countries," said Bae Hyun-jin, Yoon's spokesperson, in a statement Thursday.
The two are expected to discuss the alliance, coordination of policy on North Korea, economic security and other major regional and international issues, according to the presidential transition committee.
The White House on Tuesday announced that Biden will visit Korea and Japan from May 20 to 24 "to further deepen ties between our governments, economies, and people." He will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo.
It said in a statement that Biden's trip will advance his administration's "rock-solid commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to U.S. treaty alliances with the Republic of Korea and Japan."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added, "The leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen our vital security relationships, enhance economic ties, and expand our close cooperation to deliver practical results."
It is rare for a U.S. president to stop in Korea before Japan on an East Asia trip.
Biden was the first foreign leader Yoon spoke to over the phone on March 10, hours after his election victory was declared.
The summit could be an opportunity for Yoon and Biden to come up with a unified response to North Korea's growing threats. Pyongyang launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on March 24, breaking its self-imposed moratorium on longer-range missile and nuclear tests since late 2017. The North could also be preparing for a seventh nuclear test.
Yoon is expected to take a harder stance on North Korea than his predecessor, President Moon Jae-in, and even suggested during his presidential campaign that a "pre-emptive strike" on Pyongyang might be needed as a response to its hypersonic missiles.
Biden will undoubtedly encourage stronger trilateral coordination with Seoul and Tokyo, as the two East Asian neighbors try to mend frayed bilateral relations stemming from historical issues.
At the beginning of this month, Yoon sent a policy consultation delegation to Washington led by People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Park Jin, his foreign minister nominee, who conveyed a personal letter for Biden to the White House security adviser. Yoon also currently has a delegation in Japan, led by PPP Rep. Chung Jin-suk, deputy speaker of the National Assembly. The Korean delegation met Prime Minister Kishida Tuesday and delivered a letter from Yoon.
The Quad summit in Tokyo is scheduled for May 25, and is the second such in-person meeting after talks in Washington last September.
Yoon said he will "positively review" South Korea joining the Quad in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Monday, though he added that he doesn't expect Seoul to get an invitation any time soon.
Separately, a meeting between outgoing president Moon and Biden is also being discussed between officials from both countries, said a Blue House official Thursday. Biden is said to have requested such a meeting, which will come after Moon steps down from office on May 9.
Moon and Biden held a summit in Washington in May 2021 and have met several times at multilateral forums including the G7 summit last June and the G20 summit in November.
The Blue House official said on Biden's visit to Seoul, "We expect that it will serve as an opportunity to further solidify the Korea-U.S. relationship at the beginning of a new government."
As vice president in the Barack Obama administration, Biden visited Seoul in December 2013 on a trip that coincided with Pyongyang's release of Merrill Newman, an American war veteran who had been held in captivity by the North. During this visit, he also visited the demilitarized zone (DMZ), accompanied by his granddaughter.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]