By Spy Uganda Correspondent
US President Joe Biden and South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol signaled on Saturday an expanded military presence in response to the “threat” from North Korea, while also offering to help the isolated regime face a Covid-19 outbreak.
After meeting in Seoul on Mr Biden’s first trip to Asia as president, the two leaders said that “considering the evolving threat posed by” North Korea, they agreed “to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean peninsula”.
The possible beefing up of joint exercises comes in response to the growing belligerence of North Korea ― which has carried out a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year ― as fears grow that leader Kim Jong-un will order a nuclear test during Mr Biden’s visit to Asia.
Mr Biden and Mr Yoon also extended an offer of help to Pyongyang, which recently announced it is in the midst of a Covid-19 outbreak in a rare admission of internal troubles.
The two presidents expressed concern over the outbreak and said they “are willing to work with the international community to provide assistance” to North Korea to help fight the virus.
On Saturday, North Korean state media reported nearly 2.5 million people had been sick with “fever” with 66 deaths as the country “intensified” its campaign against the pandemic.
Mr Biden, while adding that he would not exclude a meeting with Mr Kim if he were “sincere”, indicated the difficulty of dealing with the unpredictable dictator.
“We’ve offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well and we’re prepared to do that immediately,” he said at a press conference with Mr Yoon. “We’ve got no response.”
Mr Yoon stressed that the offer of Covid aid was according to “humanitarian principles, separate from political and military issues”.
Elected on a strongly pro-US message, Mr Yoon emphasized the need to reinforce South Korea’s defences.
Talks are also continuing on ways to “co-ordinate with the US on the timely deployment of strategic assets when needed”, he said, reaffirming commitment to North Korea’s “complete denuclearisation”.
The strategic assets should include “fighter jets and missiles in a departure from the past when we only thought about the nuclear umbrella for deterrence”, he said.
Any such deployments, or a ramping up of US-South Korea joint military exercises, is likely to enrage Pyongyang, which views the drills as rehearsals for invasion.