The Yoon-Biden summit imagined

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The Yoon-Biden summit imagined

Michael Green
The author is senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and associate professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

PRESIDENT YOON: Welcome Mr. President! It is a great honor for all Koreans that you have visited our country so early in my tenure.

U.S. PRESIDENT BIDEN: It is always a pleasure to visit your beautiful country and to see what allies can do together to preserve freedom.

YOON: I know that you will be visiting with your troops and, of course, with Korean soldiers as well because we have one of the unique joint and combined commands in the world today. You know the motto they use — “kachi kapshida” — which means “we go together.” I visited with your troops in Camp Humphreys after I was elected and I thanked them for helping us to defend Korea and the freedom of the world. Under my administration, Mr. President, our motto will also be “kachi kapshida.” I know there have been some questions about Korea’s foreign policy orientation, but Korea is back. And we will go together with the United States based on our strong commitment to democratic values and a free and open Indo Pacific region and more prosperous world.

BIDEN: I have never had any doubt about that. Your predecessor may have been hesitant to make any move that would upset China or Russia or North Korea — which I can understand in part given Korea’s difficult geographic position — but we know that the ties between our country are rock solid. The United States has no better friend than Korea. And we need your help to respond to many challenges in the world today. Korea is a global player and a global partner. And I want to reassure you that even as I work to thwart Vladmir Putin’s brutal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, we will retain a strong focus on this region which has never been more important to my country’s own future.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, left, is expected to have a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul late May about two weeks after he is sworn in as president. [EPA/YONHAP]

YOON: My administration will indeed step up on the regional and global stage for all the reasons you say. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has direct implications for our own security here in Korea. Russia has a military presence in this region too, and the sight of a free people defending their country against an authoritarian state’s invasion has inspired the whole world, including here in Korea. You can be sure that going forward Korea will work with our democratic friends and allies to support the Ukrainian people. It was deeply embarrassing for us recently when Korea was absent from the 31 nations the Ukrainian government thanked for providing weapons to stop Russia’s invasion. Where would Korea have been in 1950 without the support of the free world? I will announce today that my government is providing advanced artillery counterbattery radar and other kinetic strike systems to ensure that Russian aggression does not succeed.

BIDEN: In so doing, Mr. President, you will be standing alongside some of Korea’s closest friends like Canada and Australia whose people bled and died defending Korea seventy years ago. And I believe you will also be enhancing Korea’s security as adversaries see the strength of the democracies’ mutual bond. In that context, I want to reiterate that the United States is 100 percent committed to working with you to deter North Korean provocations and aggression and to pursuing diplomatic pathways if and when they become possible.

YOON: Thank you, Mr. President. I trust that a diplomatic pathway might open with the North one day, but for now it is evident that Pyongyang intends to escalate its provocations to threaten and blackmail us. Our response must be calm but resolute. I would like to rekindle U.S-Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation and our own bilateral military exercises. I would suggest that my National Security Advisor, Kim Sung-han, travel to Washington with a team to meet with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan for a deep discussion on our strategy for the Korean Peninsula.

BIDEN: I would welcome that and I can assure you that Jake will make this a high priority.

YOON: Of course, repairing our ties with Japan will be paramount. Our transition team had excellent discussions with Prime Minister Kishida last month and I was delighted that Tokyo sent former Prime Ministers Fukuda, Abe and Noda to my inauguration recently. This was an unprecedented demonstration of bipartisan and inter-factional commitment to Korea-Japan relations. I want to thank you and your government for quietly encouraging Japan to be more forthcoming.

BIDEN: I can think of no bilateral relationship in this region that is more important to our interests. But I am told that the bilateral issues regarding history are still quite challenging?

YOON: Yes, the court cases on forced labor continue to boil. But there has been a suggestion by one of our foreign policy experts to create a bilateral Japan-Korea Wiseman’s Commission to chart the future of our relationship and I am working with Prime Minister Kishida to establish such a group in the hope that the legal cases might pause while we reset ties around our common values and interests.

BIDEN: This is work that you and my friend Prime Minister Kishida will have to do, but please let me know if I can do anything in support. And I know that Foreign Minister Park has promised to Secretary of State Blinken that Korea will step up its support for a more resilient Indo-Pacific as well.

YOON: Yes. We should never have been absent. The so-called policy of “strategic ambiguity” to avoid upsetting China only made us look irrelevant to the future of this region. We are prepared to join with you, Japan, Australia and others to work on infrastructure financing for Southeast Asian economies and capacity building for Southeast Asian militaries. I have instructed Koica, our aid agency, to work with like-minded states to increase support for civil society and women’s empowerment in developing countries. We are interested in cooperating with the Quad, but understand that will be case-by-case.

BIDEN: Yes, I would like to involve not only Korea, but also Canada, Britain, France and Southeast Asian countries more in the Quad. But our friends in India remain cautious about expanding too quickly, so bear with us and let us focus on all the areas you mentioned, which will have a major impact given Korea’s reputation and capacities in those areas.

YOON: And I should add that Korea is considering membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. For all of us in this region it is critical that the United States also come back to a leadership role in economic rule-making. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework you announced in Tokyo is a start, but take it from me — we need much more.

BIDEN: Yes, I heard that loud and clear from all my counterparts. Our mid-term elections are coming up. Let’s see how things look going forward. Your opinion is important on this issue.

YOON: Well, Mr. President, we should go see the press.

BIDEN: Yes, but please call me “Joe.”

YOON: I will. And always call me “Suk-yeol.”

BIDEN: Thank you my friend. We are going to achieve many things together for our people and the world.
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