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South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to hold meetings with President Biden

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today we hear from a country that would rather not be caught in the competition between the United States and China.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That country is South Korea. China is its big neighbor and trading partner. The U.S. is South Korea's vital ally and defender against its enemy, North Korea. In fact, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the U.S. alliance with South Korea. President Yoon Suk Yeol will receive a formal welcome and be honored at a state dinner tonight by President Biden.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following all this from the South Korean capital, Seoul. Hey there, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What'll the presidents do?

KUHN: Well, this is the first state visit by a South Korean leader in 12 years. And the visit began Tuesday evening with a visit by the leaders and their spouses to Washington, D.C.'s Korean War Memorial.

INSKEEP: Oh, which is an evocative spot. You've got these statues of American soldiers walking seemingly through the rain in South Korea.

KUHN: Right.

INSKEEP: Kind of a very, very powerful place.

KUHN: Yeah, it's a reminder of the conflict out of which the alliance was born. Then today, the main part of the visit, we have the welcoming ceremony, bilateral talks, a joint press conference and a state dinner. President Yoon is going to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, and then he's going to round out the visit with a trip to Boston to visit Harvard and MIT. And he's got a huge delegation of business executives who are signing billions of dollars' worth of deals.

INSKEEP: And also thinking about North Korea, which has been testing a bunch of missiles. So what will the two leaders have to say about that?

KUHN: Well, a U.S. official told reporters anonymously that the U.S. is going to deploy a ballistic missile submarine to the area around South Korea for the first time since the 1980s. The two countries are also going to issue what they're calling a Washington declaration, and part of that will be the establishment of a new consultative group modeled on what the U.S. had with European allies during the Cold War. Now, the South Koreans have been asking for and the U.S. has been promising more consultation on how they're going to deter North Korea and also more military hardware deployments to the region. So basically these are additions to policies about which we've been reporting for some time. And at the end of the day, this is about reassuring a jittery South Korean public and about perceptions and about repackaging and reselling policies that have already been announced.

INSKEEP: Do the two presidents agree on how to approach China?

KUHN: Well, there are some frictions. There's one story this week that China is conducting a national security review into U.S. chipmaker Micron, and the U.S. government would reportedly like South Korea semiconductor makers Samsung and SK Hynix not to take Micron's market share if China punishes Micron. President Yoon talked about this issue of supply chains in Washington last night. Let's hear what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT YOON SUK YEOL: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "South Korea and the United States are the best partners in building stable supply chains," he said, "because we share values and have close economic ties. We can trust each other." So that's how he sees it. But China is a huge market for South Korean chip makers, and the U.S. request has led to criticism that President Yoon is putting the alliance ahead of national interest. So the request puts Seoul in a tight spot.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks very much for the insights. I always appreciate hearing from you.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.