President Joe Biden has departed for his first visit to Asia as commander-in-chief on Thursday amid escalating tensions in the region chiefly driven by China and North Korea.
He’s leaving just days before the pandemic-era expulsion policy known as Title 42 is set to expire. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for scenarios where agents at the southwestern border are reckoning with as many as 18,000 migrants per day.
Meanwhile mothers and families nationwide are struggling with a baby formula shortage, as Democrats in Congress call on Biden to appoint a coordinator to deal with the crisis.
The president did not answer shouted questions from reporters on Thursday but smiled and waved in a show of confidence before his five-day trip.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Wednesday that U.S. intelligence said there’s a ‘genuine possibility’ that North Korea could conduct a missile or nuclear test while the president is visiting South Korea or Japan later this week.
‘We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan,’ Sullivan said during Wednesday’s press briefing.
Meanwhile, Biden is looking to reaffirm his administration’s commitment to allies and partners in the region who fear China’s increased aggression against Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also said Wednesday that Biden ‘will not visit the DMZ’ while in South Korea, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which separates North and South Korea.
Biden visited the DMZ as vice president in 2013.
President Joe Biden left early Thursday afternoon for his first visit to Asia as commander-in-chief
He’ll visit South Korea and Japan in a five day-long visit until next Tuesday
Biden did not stop to answer reporters’ shouted questions but waved before boarding his plane
He’s leaving the United States just days before the pandemic-era Title 42 policy is lifted
More recently, former President Donald Trump went to the DMZ in June of 2019 and crossed into North Korea, meeting leader Kim Jong Un, a year after they first held talks in Singapore.
In February 2019, Trump walked away from denuclearization talks with Kim at a second summit in Vietnam.
Since Trump’s trio of Kim meetings, U.S. denuclearization talks with North Korea have stalled.
North Korea hasn’t tested a nuclear bomb since 2017, but resumed testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles earlier this year.
Earlier this month, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan said.
North Korea, however, is reportedly suffering from a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (left) said Wednesday there’s a ‘genuine possibility’ that North Korea could conduct a nuclear or missile test while President Joe Biden is in the region, while press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (right) said Biden wouldn’t visit the DMZ
As of last week, then White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated a trip to the DMZ for Biden was still on the table.
Sullivan said as part of Biden’s first Asia trip, which kicks off Thursday, he would observe American and Korean troops.
‘On this trip, he’ll have the opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce two vital security alliances, to deepen two vibrant economic partnerships, to work with two fellow democracies to shape the rules of the road for the 21st century, and to thank his allies in Korea and Japan for their remarkable and in some ways unexpected contributions to the effort to support Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable,’ Sullivan said.
Biden’s first stop in Asia is to South Korea where he’ll meet with the country’s new leader, President Yoon Suk Yeol, who was inaugurated earlier this month.
Yoon won election, in part, because he said he’d take a tougher stance against North Korea.
The country’s previous president, Moon Jae-in, tried to promote a peaceful reconciliation between the two Koreas.
President Joe Biden (left), serving as vice president, visited the DMZ in 2013. He looked into North Korea with binoculars alongside granddaughter Finnegan Biden (right)
Yoon pledged that he would not ease sanctions on his northern neighbor until Kim made ‘active efforts in complete and verifiable denuclearization.’
In his inaugural address earlier this month, Yoon pushed an ‘audacious plan’ to boost North Korea’s economy in exchange for denuclearization.
Yoon is a first-time politician, spending his career as a prosecutor, which included leading high-profile probes into his predecessor Moon’s aides.
He beat liberal Lee Jae-myung in the country’s March election by narrow margins.
Beyond his bilateral meeting with Yoon, Biden will meet with technology and manufacturing leaders in Korea who are investing in the U.S. and producing American jobs.
Biden will then travel to Japan to meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who’s been in that position since October.
The two leaders previously met on the sidelines of the G7 in March.
Former President Donald Trump (right) visited the DMZ in June of 2019 and was the first American leader to meet with a North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un (left), in the space between North and South Korea
‘We believe that the U.S.-Japan alliance at this moment under these two leaders is at an all-time high. This visit can take us even higher,’ Sullivan said.
Biden’s overtures to South Korea and Japan, two Asian democracies, are to provide a counter-balance to rising China, which has gotten cozier with North Korea since nuclear talks ended with the last U.S. administration in 2019.
After taking office last year, Biden’s first world leader at the White House was Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, with South Korea’s President Moon visiting a month later.
While in Tokyo, Biden will also participate in his second in-person meeting of the Quad, which includes the United States, Japan, India and Australia, another strategic alliance meant to keep China in check.
This will be the first time Kishida will participate, alongside Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Australia’s May 21 general election is complicating participation in the Quad meeting, as it will be held just three days before the Tokyo gathering is scheduled.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wouldn’t say on Wednesday who would represent Australia at the summit.
‘I believe that the Quad meeting will go ahead, I don’t have any more specifics than that,’ Jean-Pierre said at Wednesday’s briefing when asked about Australia’s participation.
Morrison is being challenged by Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese.
Also in Tokyo, the White House said Biden will release an ‘ambitious economic initiative for the region.’
First Lady Jill Biden beat her husband to Asia, traveling to Tokyo in July to appear at the summer Olympics.