Biden set for first Asia trip with North Korea nuclear fears looming

TAIWAN LESSONS?

Briefing reporters on Wednesday, Sullivan said Biden is bound for Asia with “the wind at our back” after successful US leadership in the Western response to President Vladimir Putin’s now almost three-month-long invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

The high military, diplomatic and economic cost imposed on Russia is seen in Washington as a cautionary tale for China to absorb, given its stated ambitions to gain control over democratic-ruled Taiwan, even if that means going to war.

Earlier this month, CIA Director William Burns said Beijing is watching “carefully”.

“I think they’ve been struck by the way in which particularly the transatlantic alliance has come together to impose economic costs on Russia as a result of that aggression,” he said.

Sullivan said the administration wants not so much to confront China on the trip as to use Biden’s diplomacy to show that the West and its Asian partners will not be divided and weakened.

He pointed to cooperation from South Korea and Japan, among others, in the sanctions regime against Russia led by European powers and the United States. He also referred to Britain’s role in the recently created security partnership AUKUS.

This “powerful message” will be “heard in Beijing”, Sullivan said, “but it’s not a negative message and it’s not targeted at any one country”.

NORTH KOREAN ‘PROVOCATIONS’?

Officials say North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme is a wild card on the trip.

Sullivan said it was possible that North Korea, which has defied UN sanctions in conducting an array of nuclear-capable missile tests this year, could use Biden’s visit to stage “provocations”.

This could mean “further missile tests, long-range missile tests or a nuclear test, or frankly both, in the days leading into, on or after the president’s trip to the region”, he said.

The Biden administration is prepared to “make both short and longer-term adjustments to our military posture” in response.

Sullivan said the situation was being “closely” coordinated with South Korea and Japan and that he had also spoken about the issue with his Chinese counterpart on Wednesday.