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Biden begins Asia trip in South Korea

OSAN AIR BASE, SOUTH KOREA (AFP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden arrived in South Korea yesterday, his first Asia trip as US leader, aiming to cement ties with regional security allies as concern over a North Korean nuclear test grows.

Biden wants the trip to build on recent moves accelerating a years-long US pivot to Asia, where rising Chinese commercial and military power is undercutting Washington’s dominance.

He will receive a warm welcome from South Korea’s new staunchly pro-US President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office last week, but there is growing concern North Korea’s unpredictable leadership could conduct a nuclear test during Biden’s visit to the region.

Despite a spiralling COVID outbreak, Pyongyang’s “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are only looking for the right time”, South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said after being briefed by Seoul’s spy agency.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said there was “real risk of some kind of provocation while we’re in the region”.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin greets US President Joe Biden as he arrives at Osan Air Base. PHOTO: AP

“We know what we will do to respond to them. We have communicated with not just our allies, but also with China,” he said.

Hawkish Yoon has pledged to take a firm line with the North after years of failed diplomacy, and also wants stronger ties with the US, including ramping up joint military exercises.

Early yesterday, he told reporters in Seoul that Biden’s trip was an opportunity for the US-South Korea relationship to become “stronger and more inclusive”.

Biden heads to Japan from South Korea tomorrow. He will hold talks with the leaders of both countries, as well as joining a regional summit of the Quad – a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the US – while in Tokyo.

“I’m on my way to the Republic of Korea and Japan for my first trip to Asia as president,” Biden tweeted from Air Force One.

“I look forward to strengthening vital security alliances, deepening our economic partnerships, and working with fellow democracies to help shape the rules of the road for the 21st Century.”