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President Joe Biden arrives in South Korea, visits Samsung chip plant

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President Joe Biden arrives in South Korea, visits Samsung chip plant
U.S. President Joe Biden's (L) first stop on his Asia trip was a Samsung semiconductor plant that is the model for a $17 billion facility the South Korean electronics giant plans to open in Texas. He was joined on the tour by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (C) and Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (R). Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, May 20 (UPI) -- With the specter of a North Korean weapons test looming in the background, U.S. President Joe Biden kicked off his three-day visit to South Korea on Friday by focusing on semiconductors and supply chains.

Air Force One landed at Osan Air Force Base in Pyeongtaek, roughly 40 miles south of Seoul, and Biden headed directly to a nearby Samsung chip manufacturing plant for a tour accompanied by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.

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The plant is a model for a $17 billion semiconductor facility that Samsung is planning to build in Texas and hopes to open in the second half of 2024.

At a brief press conference after the tour, Biden called the Samsung Pyeongtaek campus, which is the world's largest semiconductor fabrication site, "emblematic of the future cooperation and innovation that our nations can and must build together."

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"By uniting our skills and our technological know-how, it allows the production of chips that are critical to both our countries and our essential sectors of our global economy," Biden said.

While Biden's trip is expected to turn its focus toward regional security issues, the White House is also looking to highlight its economic agenda for the domestic audience.

The Biden administration has made boosting the semiconductor industry and securing critical supply chains a policy priority, particularly after a global chip shortage last year rattled industries from automobiles to consumer electronics and helped cause a spike in inflation.

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Yoon said the U.S.-South Korea relationship is "blossoming into an economic and security alliance based on our partnership for advanced technologies and global supply chains."

Yoon said Biden's visit to the Samsung plant "served as a great opportunity to re-highlight the meaning of semiconductors for the economy and security.

"The Republic of Korea provides 70% of the memory chips used around the world, positioning ourselves at the center of the global supply chain," Yoon added. The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.

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Biden's trip, which will continue to Japan on Sunday, is his first to Asia as president. The White House has been looking to turn its focus toward the region in order to strengthen alliances and counter the growing economic and military power of China, which the administration has identified as its top foreign policy challenge.

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"So much of the future of the world is going to be written here in the Indo-Pacific over the next several decades," Biden said Friday. "We're standing at an inflection point in history, where the decisions we make today will have far-reaching impacts on the world we leave to our children tomorrow."

In Tokyo, Biden is scheduled to unveil one of the key pieces of his administration's Asia policy: the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a U.S. led economic initiative that is seen as an attempt to answer Beijing's regional influence.

The Yoon administration has signaled that it will sign on to the pact, which focuses on issues including supply chain resiliency, the digital economy and clean energy.

Biden's visit comes as Seoul and Washington are on high alert for a provocation from North Korea, which has conducted 16 missile launches this year and appears poised for its first nuclear weapons test since 2017.

At a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to South Korea, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said there is a "a genuine possibility, a real risk of some kind of provocation while we're in the region, whether in South Korea or in Japan."

"That could take the form of a nuclear test -- the seventh nuclear test that North Korea has conducted," Sullivan said. "It could take the form of a missile test.

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"We are prepared, obviously, to make both short- and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as necessary to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region and that we're responding to any North Korean provocation," Sullivan added.

Biden is scheduled to meet with Yoon again on Saturday for a summit that will feature discussions about a combined response to North Korea's evolving nuclear threat.

Yoon, a former chief prosecutor and political neophyte who took office on May 10, has vowed to take a harder line against Pyongyang. He is looking for Washington's commitment on extended nuclear deterrence and the deployment of strategic assets such as submarines, long-range bombers and aircraft carriers.

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