Biden pushes economic, security goals as he wraps up Korea visit

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Joe Biden dealt with both business and security interests on Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day trip to South Korea, first presenting the commitment of Hyundai investing at least $10 billion in the United States, then mingling with troops at a nearby military base.

Biden’s visit to Osan Air Base, where thousands of US and South Korean military personnel work side-by-side to monitor the rapidly evolving North Korean nuclear threat, was his last stop before continuing on to Japan. .

“You are on the front line, right here in this room,” the president said in a command center with maps of the Korean peninsula projected on screens on a wall.

It was a day that brought together two key messages that Biden is trying to project on his first trip to Asia as president.

At a time of high inflation and simmering dissatisfaction at home, Biden underscored his global mission to strengthen the US economy by convincing foreign companies like Hyundai to launch new operations in the United States. And he wanted to show solidarity with nervous Asian allies who live in the shadow of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and have grown skeptical of US security commitments while President Donald Trump was in office.

Earlier on Sunday, Biden brushed off questions about a possible provocation by North Korea, such as testing a nuclear weapon or a ballistic missile during his trip, saying, “We’re ready for whatever North Korea does. North Korea”.

When asked if he had a message for the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Biden offered a curt response: “Hello. Period.”

It was another abrupt departure from Trump, who once said he had “fallen in love” with Kim.

Biden’s first appearance of the day was alongside Hyundai Chief Executive Eusiun Chung to highlight the company’s increased investment in the United States, including $5.5 billion for an electric vehicle and fuel plant. batteries in Georgia.

“Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but they’re also good for jobs,” Biden said. “And they’re good for business.”

Chung also said his company would spend an additional $5 billion on artificial intelligence for self-driving vehicles and other technologies.

The major U.S. investment by a South Korean company reflects how the countries are leveraging their longstanding military ties into a broader economic partnership.

Earlier in his trip, Biden visited a computer chip factory run by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that plans to build a $17 billion production plant in Texas.

Biden has made greater economic cooperation with South Korea a priority, saying Saturday that “it will bring our two countries even closer, cooperating even more closely than we already do, and help strengthen our supply chains.” , to protect them against shocks and to give our economies a competitive advantage.

The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February have forced a deeper rethink of national security and economic alliances. The coronavirus outbreaks have led to shortages of computer chips, automobiles and other goods that the Biden administration says can ultimately be solved by having more manufacturing domestically and with trusted allies.

Hyundai’s Georgian plant is expected to employ 8,100 workers and produce up to 300,000 vehicles a year. Construction is expected to begin early next year with production beginning in 2025 near the unincorporated town of Ellabell.

But the Hyundai factory is showing there are also compromises as Biden pushes through with his economic agenda.

The president has tried to tie electric vehicle production to automakers with a unionized workforce, and during his trip he called on Korean companies to hire union labor for their operations in the United States.

However, there is no guarantee that workers at the Hyundai plant in Georgia will be unionized.

Georgia is a “right to work” state, which means that workers cannot be required to join a union or make union payments as a condition of employment.

A Hyundai spokesperson did not respond to an email asking if the Georgia plant would be unionized. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said there was no contradiction between Biden encouraging investors to embrace union labor while his administration does “all it can” to encourage investment and create jobs in the United States.

Biden then toured the demilitarized zone on the northern and southern border, a regular stop for US presidents when visiting Seoul. Biden had visited the DMZ as vice president and was now more interested in seeing Osan Air Force Base, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

While on base, Biden chatted with troops and their families at the bowling alley and indulged his passion for ice cream — twice. First chocolate chips, then vanilla and chocolate.

Biden and Korean President Yoon Sook Yeol announced on Saturday that they would consider expanding joint military exercises to deter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

The push for deterrence by Biden and Yoon, which is less than two weeks away from his presidency, marks a shift in leadership from their predecessors. Trump had considered scrapping the drills and expressed affection for North Korea’s Kim. And the last South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim until the end of his term despite repeated rebuffs from the North.

Yoon campaigned on the promise to strengthen relations between the United States and South Korea. He reiterated at a Saturday dinner honoring Biden that his goal was to advance relations “beyond security concerns” with North Korea, which have long dominated relations.

“I will try to design a new future vision for our alliances with you, Mr. President,” Yoon said.

During the Japanese leg of Biden’s trip, he will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday and outline his vision for negotiating a new trade deal, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

A central theme of the trip is to tighten American alliances in the Pacific to counter China’s influence in the region.

But within the administration, a debate is ongoing over whether to lift some of the $360 billion in Trump-era tariffs on China. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently said some of the tariffs hurt US businesses and consumers more than China.

On Tuesday, Japan hosts Biden at a summit for the Quad, a four-nation strategic alliance that also includes Australia and India. The American president will then return to Washington.

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Associated Press writers Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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