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New friends, old tensions, storms at home

SEOUL – President Joe Biden hopes to use his visit to Asia to reaffirm his belief that long-standing friendships can afford to be even kinder — and pay off. His six-day journey begins Friday in South Korea and ends in Japan at a time when world events are reshaping the foundations of the global order.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted supply chains and exposed the weaknesses of a trading system primarily focused on low prices for consumers and high profits for companies. Then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heralded a return to Cold War-era intrigue.

The US and other wealthy democracies – including Japan and South Korea – joined forces to help Ukraine and punish Russia, but not all countries were willing to side with the alliance. China, India and others have made it their goal to remain friendly to Russia while not exceeding sanctions.

The uncertainty has Biden determined to demonstrate that America’s ultimate power rests in its ability to make friends and influence people, rather than the raw capacity of its military and economy. A look at some of the key issues and issues on the table for Biden’s visit:

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RELAX WITH NEW EXECUTIVES

Relations between Japan and South Korea were at their worst in decades amid disputes over war history and trade. These are rifts that the countries’ two new leaders seem ready to mend, with Biden as a possible interlocutor who could help bring them closer together.

South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol took over the presidency a week ago in anticipation of better relations with Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October, spoke to Yoon by phone the day after his March election victory and said “solid ties” are vital to regional and international peace and stability.

From Kishida’s point of view, the rule-based order is threatened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Japan fears the war that began in February could encourage China to seize territory in the Pacific, a key reason it wants better ties with South Korea. Still, Kishida skipped Yoon’s May 10 inauguration and sent his foreign minister instead. Since the US has ties with both countries, a likely bridge to improving relations is to focus on the common interests of all three nations.

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NORTH KOREAN QUICK COOKER

Biden’s visit comes as allies face a growing threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. The country’s authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, is trying to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power and wants to negotiate security and economic concessions from a position of strength.

Kim has conducted 16 rounds of missile tests so far this year, including the country’s first ICBM flight in nearly five years in March. He is trying to take advantage of a favorable environment to advance his weapons program while the UN Security Council remains divided over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The challenges of a declining economy and an escalating COVID-19 outbreak in an unvaccinated population of 26 million are unlikely to slow his push campaign. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan says US intelligence shows there is a “real possibility” that North Korea will conduct another ballistic missile test or nuclear test during or around Biden’s visit.

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Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than three years over disagreements over how to ease crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for Northern disarmament moves.

Storms AT HOME

Even half a world away from home, Biden cannot escape the turbulence in the United States

The stock market is bubbling over economic fears. The shortage of infant formula is frustrating families, even amid efforts to import and boost domestic supplies. The pain of the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York and the racial motives underlying the attack is still fresh. Added to this are rising petrol prices and the ongoing challenge of inflation at an almost 40-year high.

The president may want to draw public attention to his efforts abroad, but he’s likely to face tough questions about what’s happening at home.

THE QUAD

She meets on Tuesday, but what is that? The Quad is a partnership between the US, Australia, India and Japan with the express goal of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region. The joint statement that emerged from their 2021 meeting made no mention of China, but many of the Quad’s positions are interpreted as a review of China’s ambitions to be the dominant power in Asia.

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This time the drama could be more internal, dealing with the complex nature of democracy itself. This is because elections are held in Australia on Saturday. If the incumbent party wins, Prime Minister Scott Morrison would already be ready to attend Tuesday’s meeting in Tokyo. But if his party loses, Morrison would have to resign quickly so opposition leader Anthony Albanese could be sworn in ahead of the Tokyo meeting. Then there is a chance that neither party will achieve a majority or that the results will be uncertain. In this case, Albanese may be able to participate as an observer.

THE CHINA PUZZLE

Biden’s visit is being closely watched by China. The US and its allies rely on China as a trading partner, but the rivalry lingers as shared economic interests have revealed often conflicting value systems. US officials are increasingly shaping their relationship with China as competitive.

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Just before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at the Beijing Winter Olympics and told the world the countries had a “borderless friendship.” Since the invasion, China has criticized sanctions imposed on Russia but appears reluctant to breach bans imposed by the US and its allies.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian alluded to China as “a third party” that should not be penalized by US-Japan deals.

“The development of US-Japan bilateral relations should not target third parties or harm the interests of third parties,” Zhao said at a briefing on Thursday.

A NEW ACRONYM: IPEF

Former US President Donald Trump ignited years of trade negotiations by pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017. While Biden portrays himself as anti-Trump, he has shown no enthusiasm for returning to the deal as written.

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With that, the US is coming to Asia to promote an alternative trade pact: the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Or IPEF.

What exactly would this framework do? It is about regional cooperation on trade, technology, supply chains, clean energy, labor standards, taxes and anti-corruption programs. None of this is necessarily controversial. One potential hurdle, however, is that the administration is signaling the framework won’t include the usual financial sweeteners like lower tariffs and easier access to American customers, a possible nod to a backlash from US voters to previous trade deals.

Australia, India and Japan – the other three members of the quad – are likely members of the framework. South Korea and some Southeast Asian countries are also seen as candidates. But the framework is still in its infancy. It was announced on Tuesday that the US Department of Commerce will hire Sharon Yuan of The Asia Group, a management consulting firm, as chief negotiator for the deal.

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MORE CHIPS, PLEASE

It is the engine of the digital age: Almost everything needs a computer chip. But the post-pandemic world simply lacks reliable supplies. U.S. government officials expect shortages to begin to narrow later this year, but there may not be enough semiconductors on the market to meet industry needs until 2023.

No one disputes the need for greater cooperation, but there is an open debate about how to increase production to withstand disease, war, extreme weather and other disasters. Biden wants more chips to be made in the US. South Korea and Taiwan want to increase the resilience of their own manufacturing as a solution to this crisis, according to a briefing by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And Japan’s prime minister is making chips a cornerstone of its “new capitalism” policy, seeking to make chips for robotic technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

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Madhani reported from Washington. Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. AP writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report from Seoul.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/20/biden-in-asia-new-friends-old-tensions-storms-at-home/ New friends, old tensions, storms at home

Justin Scacco

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