The US and South Korea have committed to exploring “new and additional steps” to reinforce deterrence as Pyongyang continues to develop nuclear weapons.

President Joe Biden is visiting Asia in a bid to reassure allies of the US’s commitment to regional security as China pushes for influence.

South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol said during a joint press conference with Biden in Seoul on Saturday that the two leaders had discussed the “timely deployment” of US strategic assets including fighters, bombers, and missiles.

Yoon, who was sworn in as president earlier this month, added “more concrete discussions” would continue between the two countries’ respective national security councils.

South Korea is seeking greater reassurance from the US, its closest security ally, as North Korea’s nuclear arsenal continues to develop in scale and sophistication despite years of tough international sanctions and a period of extreme self-isolation imposed by leader Kim Jong Un in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every day we are seeing North Korea advancing its nuclear and missile capabilities, and president Biden and I share grave concerns — it is something that merits our utmost attention,” said Yoon.

S Paul Choi, founder of Seoul-based political risk advisory StratWays Group said it was a good sign that the two presidents had committed to upgrade talks and reinforce deterrence with “new and additional steps.”

US President Joe Biden (left) and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) leave a room where a joint news conference was held after their summit talks at the presidential office in Seoul
Biden and Yoon discussed deployment of US fighters, bombers and missiles © YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“For South Korea to get the assurances it requires, this issue needed to be elevated to the presidential level. The White House needs to be involved if there is to be a meaningful strengthening of deterrence,” he said.

Yoon and Biden reiterated their “common goal of the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, with Biden telling reporters he would only consider meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if Kim could demonstrate he was “sincere and serious”.

Some experts have criticised Biden and Yoon for their emphasis on deterrence, arguing that it did little to constrain North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, in Seoul, said that the Biden administration had “learned the lessons” of former US president Donald Trump’s failed attempts to negotiate with the North Korean dictator.

“Trump offered Kim a lot, and still the North Koreans didn’t budge,” said Go. “You can’t really blame the Biden administration for being sceptical about engagement — and that leaves deterrence as the only option.”

Biden also told reporters that the US had offered vaccines both to North Korea, which is wrestling with a major coronavirus outbreak, and to China: “We’re prepared to do that immediately. We’ve gotten no response.”

The summit was held on the second day of Biden’s visit to South Korea, the first leg of an Asian tour during which the US president has emphasised the importance of securing US supply chains.

On Friday, Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong gave Biden and Yoon a personal tour of the conglomerate’s flagship semiconductor facility, while Hyundai used the occasion of Biden’s visit to announce a $5.5bn investment to build its first dedicated EV plant and battery manufacturing facility in the US.

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