President Joe Biden left for Asia on Thursday for his first visit as commander in chief amid escalating tensions in the region, fueled mostly by China and North Korea.
He’s leaving just days before the pandemic-era expulsion policy known as Title 42 expires. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for scenarios in which officials expect up to 18,000 migrants a day on the southwest border.
Meanwhile, mothers and families across the country are grappling with baby food shortages as Congressional Democrats urge Biden to appoint a coordinator to deal with the crisis.
The president didn’t answer shouted questions from reporters on Thursday, instead smiling and waving in a show of confidence ahead of his five-day trip.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday US intelligence has said there is a “real possibility” that North Korea could conduct a missile or nuclear test while the president visits South Korea or Japan later this week.
“We are preparing for all eventualities, including the possibility that such a provocation occurs while we are in Korea or Japan,” Sullivan said during Wednesday’s news conference.
Meanwhile, Biden is trying to reaffirm his administration’s commitment to allies and partners in the region who fear China’s increasing 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 separating North and South Korea.
Biden attended the DMZ in 2013 as Vice President.
President Joe Biden left for Asia early Thursday afternoon for his first visit as commander in chief
He will visit South Korea and Japan on a five-day visit until next Tuesday
Biden didn’t stop to answer the reporters’ shouted questions, but waved before boarding his plane
He leaves the United States just days before the pandemic-era Title 42 policy is lifted
More recently, former President Donald Trump traveled to the DMZ in June 2019 and crossed the border into North Korea, where he met leader Kim Jong Un, a year after they held initial talks in Singapore.
In February 2019, Trump walked away from denuclearization talks with Kim at a second summit in Vietnam.
US denuclearization talks with North Korea have stalled since Trump’s trio of Kim meetings.
North Korea has not tested a nuclear bomb since 2017 but resumed testing ICBMs earlier this year.
Earlier this month, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan said.
However, North Korea is reportedly suffering from a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (left) said Wednesday there was a “real 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 would not visit the DMZ
Last week, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that a trip to the DMZ was still on the table for Biden.
Sullivan said he would be observing American and Korean troops as part of Biden’s first tour of Asia, which begins Thursday.
“Through this trip, he will have the opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen two vital security alliances, deepen two vibrant economic partnerships, work with two other democracies to shape traffic rules for the 21st century, and thank his allies in Korea and Japan for their remarkable and somewhat unexpected contributions to efforts to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable,” Sullivan said.
Biden’s first stop in Asia is South Korea, where he will meet with the country’s new leader, President Yoon Suk Yeol, who was inaugurated earlier this month.
Yoon won the election in part because he said he would take a tougher stance on North Korea.
The country’s former President Moon Jae-in tried to promote peaceful reconciliation between the two Koreas.
President Joe Biden (left), who served as Vice President, visited the DMZ in 2013. He was looking at North Korea through binoculars along with granddaughter Finnegan Biden (right).
Yoon vowed he would not ease sanctions on its northern neighbor until Kim makes “active efforts toward full and verifiable denuclearization.”
In his inaugural speech earlier this month, Yoon touted a “daring plan” to boost North Korea’s economy in exchange for denuclearization.
A first-time politician, Yoon has spent his career as a prosecutor, which has included leading high-profile investigations into his predecessor Moon’s aides.
He narrowly defeated the liberal Lee Jae-myung in the country’s March elections.
Beyond his bilateral meeting with Yoon, Biden will meet with technology and manufacturing leaders in Korea who are investing in the US and creating American jobs.
Biden will then travel to Japan to meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has held the post since October.
The two heads of state and government had previously met on the sidelines of the G7 in March.
Former President Donald Trump (right) visited the DMZ in June 2019 and became 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 the US-Japan alliance is at an all-time high right now under these two leaders. This visit can take us even higher,” Sullivan said.
Biden’s offers to South Korea and Japan, two Asian democracies, are intended to provide a counterbalance to a rising China, which has become more comfortable with North Korea since nuclear talks with the last US administration ended in 2019.
After taking office last year, Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, was Kishida’s first world leader in the White House, with South Korea’s President Moon visiting him a month later.
While in Tokyo, Biden will also attend his second face-to-face meeting of the Quad, which includes the United States, Japan, India and Australia, another strategic alliance designed to keep China at bay.
This will be the first time Kishida will attend alongside Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Australia’s general election on May 21 complicates attendance at the Quad meeting as it will take place just three days before the scheduled meeting in Tokyo.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to say who would represent Australia at the summit on Wednesday.
“I believe the quad meeting will take place, I don’t have more details,” said Jean-Pierre 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 would launch an “ambitious economic initiative for the region.”
First Lady Jill Biden beat her husband to Asia and traveled to Tokyo in July to attend the Summer Olympics.