Biden, South Korea’s Moon Vow to Mend Alliance Shaken by Trump

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U.S. President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in agreed to upgrade their alliance and cooperate on North Korea, as they sought to mend ties shaken by Trump administration policies.

Biden and Moon vowed to strengthen an alliance that has been “the linchpin for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia,” the White House said in a statement. They also pledged to closely cooperate on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, South Korean presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said in a briefing Thursday after a phone between the two leaders.

Moon acknowledged the importance of three-way security cooperation with Japan and the U.S., and discussed international issues relating to China and Myanmar, Kang added. The White House said they “agreed on the need for the immediate restoration of democracy in Burma,” using the former name of Myanmar.

Ties between the allies were tested under former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly accused South Korea of short-changing the U.S. and demanded a five-fold increase in payments to support the 28,500 American troops based there. In October, the Trump administration further strained the seven-decade alliance when, for the first time, it withheld the U.S. commitment to maintaining troop levels in South Korea.

“I welcomed ‘America’s return’ in the midst of mounting global challenges such as Covid-19, climate change and economic polarization,” Moon said on his Facebook page. “Biden and I pledged to further upgrade the ROK-U.S. alliance, an alliance that is anchored in shared values,” Moon added, referring to South Korea by its formal name.

Biden said in an interview with the Yonhap News Agency just ahead of the U.S. election, he wouldn’t be “extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops.” The two sides have been deadlocked for more than a year in the funding talks, after Trump sought about $5 billion annually from South Korea, well above the $900 million in a stopgap one-year agreement that expired at the start of 2020.

The Biden administration has signaled an early focus on shoring up the country’s alliances around the world, reaffirming security commitments in calls with several of China’s neighbors since taking office Jan. 20. Biden also spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday and discussed issues including “dealing with China” and holding “to account those responsible for the coup in Burma,” according to a White House statement.

The call comes weeks after Moon said he anticipates an early summit with Biden to revive nuclear talks with North Korea. The Trump administration made little progress in winding down Pyongyang’s atomic ambitions despite three face-to-face meetings between the U.S. president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim marked Biden’s election win by calling the U.S. a “war monster,” just before the then president-elect moved into the White House in January. Kim also said at a major ruling party meeting that he would put North Korea on a path to develop more advanced nuclear technologies and missiles, sending a chilling warning to Biden that the Asian leader is ready to ratchet up security tensions.

The Biden administration has indicated it may be ready to ease sanctions in exchange for steps by Kim to freeze, cap and wind down his atomic arsenal. That could help Kim fix an economy that has only gotten smaller since he took power about a decade ago.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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