How Biden put business firstCHOI HYUN-JU
The author is a life and economic news team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
In the end, it was all about the economy. U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Korea was filled with economic issues, such as semiconductors, electric cars and batteries. Biden started his three-day trip with a visit to Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. He gave a thumbs up and said, “Thank you, Samsung.”
After a meeting with Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on the second day, Biden emphasized “technology alliance” and “economic security” at a dinner attended by the heads of five major conglomerates, including Samsung, SK and Hyundai. On the third day, he concluded the trip by having a one-on-one meeting with Hyundai Motors Chairman Euisun Chung and receiving the gift of Hyundai’s plan to invest $10.5 billion in the United States.
Biden’s visit to Korea is unusual. The first Korea-US summit since the inauguration of the two presidents has typically been held in the United States. Japan was also previously the first country visited by a U.S. president on an Asian tour. Biden visited Korea 10 days after Yoon took office and chose Korea as the first country to visit in Asia. It is unprecedented for the head of a foreign country to visit business sites or contact businessmen throughout his visit to Korea.
Behind the unusual move lies “civilian diplomacy.” Since taking office, Biden is known to have invited Samsung Electronics to every meeting on semiconductor supply chains to seek advice. It means that he values the relationship with Samsung Electronics, the biggest memory semiconductor maker in the world, amid the “semiconductor crisis.” Moreover, Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG are planning to invest 50 trillion won to build semiconductor, battery and electric vehicle factories in the United States. Biden’s economic gains from Korea will empower the U.S. Democratic Party in the midterm elections in November.
Until now, civilian diplomacy proved powerful whenever the country was faced with a big event, like the Olympics, expos, the World Cup and Covid-19 vaccine procurement. Networks that Korean companies have built up as they engage in business in countries around the world are Korea’s assets. In many cases, diplomatic issues that cannot be resolved between governments have been resolved with the promise of Korean companies making investments.
One of the six administrative goals the new administration advocates is a “dynamic economy pulled by the private sector and pushed by the government.” People’s livelihoods have been deeply scarred by Covid-19 and people have a greater longing for a dynamic economy, now more than ever. The private sector is ready to pull. Now it’s the government’s turn.