Biden begins South Korea trip at Samsung factory, flagging supply chain woes

Visit could help allies forge a new economic and security alliance, South Korean president says



US military personel greet President Joe Biden as he arrives in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. – AP
US military personel greet President Joe Biden as he arrives in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. – AP

By AFP

Published: Fri 20 May 2022, 6:57 PM

President Joe Biden arrived in South Korea Friday on his first Asia trip as US leader, aiming to cement economic and security ties with regional allies despite growing fears of a North Korean nuclear test.

His first stop was a massive Samsung semiconductor factory, where he received a warm welcome from South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol, with global supply chain issues topping the agenda.

Biden, in his first remarks since arriving in South Korea at the start of a trip meant to demonstrate US resolve to lead in Asia, said the two countries’ alliance was “a lynchpin of peace, stability and prosperity” in the world.

Speaking at the factory in Pyeongtaek alongside Yoon, Biden described the advanced semiconductors manufactured there as “a wonder of innovation” and crucial to the world’s economy.

The tiny, smart wafers “enable our modern lives” and are “the key to propelling us into the next era of humanity’s technological development”, he added.

Semiconductors — the microchips essential to most modern devices from phones to cars and high-tech weapons — are at the heart of a global supply chain slowdown that threatens to disrupt the world’s post-Covid economic recovery.

South Korea and the United States need to work to “keep our supply chains resilient, reliable and secure”, Biden said.

“Putin’s brutal, unprovoked war in Ukraine has further spotlighted the need to secure our critical supply chain,” he said.

The US needs to ensure “our economic and our national security are not dependent on countries that don’t share our values,” he added.

For the US leader, whose Democratic Party fears a possible trouncing in midterm elections this year, the issue is also an acute domestic political challenge, with Americans increasingly frustrated over rising prices and stuttering economic reopening.

Ahead of the speech, Biden toured the huge Samsung plant, taking in lengthy presentations from staff clad in hazmat suits on the equipment used to produce semiconductors.

After a briefing from a US representative from a California company working with Samsung, Biden quipped: “Don’t forget to vote Peter”.

Samsung employs about 20,000 people within the United States and work is underway to build a new semiconductor plant in Texas, opening in 2024.

South Korea is a semiconductor powerhouse, supplying about 70 percent of chips globally, President Yoon said in his speech, asking Biden to take a “special interest” in South Korean chip firms.

Biden’s visit could help the two allies forge a new “economic and security alliance based on advanced technology and supply-chain cooperation”, Yoon said.

“Semiconductors became something akin to a strategic commodity now,” Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.

Biden “needs Samsung’s collaboration in this regard”, he added.

Biden wants the trip to boost a years-long US pivot to Asia.

There is a “real risk of some kind of provocation”, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, with South Korean intelligence also warning that Pyongyang had recently completed preparations for a nuclear test.

Security issues were not top of the agenda Friday, but the fact that Biden is visiting Seoul first on his Asia tour indicates that Washington is looking to re-focus on the Korean Peninsula, Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst, told AFP.

“Should Kim proceed with a test during Biden’s visit, he will effectively be helping the two countries find greater justification to work together on the North Korea issue,” she said.

Biden heads to Japan from South Korea on Sunday. He will also join a regional summit of the Quad — a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — while in Tokyo.


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