Biden, Japan and South Korea vow unified response to North Korea

“We face real challenges, but our countries are better aligned than ever and more prepared than ever to meet those challenges,” Biden said.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — President Joe Biden and leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday pledged a unified, coordinated response to North Korea’s looming nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with Biden stating that the three-way partnership is “even more important than they.” has ever been” if North Korea escalates its provocations.

Biden met separately with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol before all three sat down on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia.

The US President first offered his condolences to a crowd during Halloween celebrations in Seoul that killed more than 150 people and said the US had mourned with South Korea. The meeting focused heavily on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent escalations, although Biden said the three leaders would also discuss strengthening supply chains and keeping peace across the Taiwan Strait, while also addressing countries’ support for Ukraine build in the face of Russian aggression.

Biden had also planned to seek input from Kishida and Yoon on how to deal with China’s assertive stance in the Pacific region on the eve of his face-to-face meeting with President Xi Jinping.

RELATED: Biden meets China’s Xi for first face-to-face meeting since taking office as president

“We face real challenges, but our countries are better aligned than ever and more prepared than ever to meet those challenges,” Biden said. “So I look forward to deepening the bonds of cooperation between our three countries.”

Both Yoon and Kishida spoke about the ongoing aggression by North Korea, which has launched dozens of missiles in recent weeks. The launches include an ICBM 10 days ago, prompting evacuation alerts in northern Japan as Allies warn of a looming risk that the isolated country will conduct its seventh nuclear test in the coming weeks.

Referring to the mass stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon district, Yoon said through an interpreter, “At a time when South Koreans mourn with deep sorrow, North Korea has advanced such provocations that expose the truth of Kim Jong Un’s inclinations.”

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Saturday Biden would use the meetings to strengthen the three countries’ joint response to the threats posed by North Korea, officially known as the DPRK.

“What we would really like to see is enhanced trilateral security cooperation where the three countries come together,” he said. “That’s true in relation to the DPRK because of the common threat and challenge we all face, but it’s also true more broadly of our ability to work together to improve overall regional peace and stability.”

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have skyrocketed in recent months as the North continues gun demonstrations and the US and South Korea hold intensified joint defense exercises. Earlier this month, South Korea’s military said two B-1B bombers were training with four US F-16 fighter jets and four South Korean F-35 jets on the final day of joint air force exercises “Vigilant Storm”. It was the first time the bombers had been deployed to the Korean Peninsula since December 2017. A total of around 240 fighter jets were involved in the exercise, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries.

North Korea responded with a show of force of its own, flying large numbers of warplanes within its territory.

The Biden administration has said it has repeatedly sent requests to negotiate with North Korea without preconditions to limit its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but Kim Jong Un’s administration has not responded.

Biden said he plans to urge Xi to use China’s hold over North Korea to curb his aggressive behavior as part of what is expected to be a far-reaching meeting between leaders on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

China “has an interest in playing a constructive role in containing North Korea’s worst tendencies,” Sullivan said Saturday. “Whether they choose to do that or not is of course up to them.”

Biden told reporters Sunday that he had “always had straightforward conversations” with Xi, and that prevented both of them from “miscalculating” their intentions. Their meeting comes weeks after Xi cemented his grip on China’s political system with the conclusion of the Community Party Congress in Beijing that gave him a norm-breaking third term as leader.

“His circumstances have changed at home, to state the obvious,” Biden said of Xi. Biden claimed his own did as well, saying after Democrats retained control of the Senate in the midterm elections, “I know I’m getting stronger.”

To underscore the point, several heads of state reached out to Biden in Cambodia to let him know they had been following the US midterm campaigns closely, telling the president the results were a testament to the strength of American democracy, Sullivan told Sullivan Reporters who traveled to Indonesia on Air Force One on Sunday evening.

Monday’s meeting will be the first in-person meeting between leaders since Biden’s election. US officials have expressed frustration that lower-level Chinese officials have proven unable or unwilling to speak for Xi and hope the face-to-face summit will allow progress in areas of common interest – and, more importantly, a shared understanding of each other’s limitations.

“I know him well, he knows me,” Biden said. “We just need to figure out where the red lines are and what’s most important to each of us over the next two years.”

As president, Biden has repeatedly held China accountable for human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities, Beijing’s crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, forced trade practices, military provocations against self-governing Taiwan, and differences over Russia’s prosecution of his country’s war against Ukraine.

The Xi government has criticized the Biden administration’s stance on Taiwan — which Beijing eventually wants to unite with the communist mainland — as undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese president has also hinted Washington wants to stifle Beijing’s growing influence as it seeks to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy.

Biden also spoke briefly with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who this week sought his own meeting with Xi on easing Chinese sanctions on his country. Biden, Japan and South Korea vow unified response to North Korea

Laura Coffey

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