1 of 2 | South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and first lady Kim Keon-hee depart Seoul on Monday for a six-day state visit to the United States. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
SEOUL, April 24 (UPI) -- South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol departed for the United States on Monday for a six-day state visit, with economic and security issues high on the agenda amid growing nuclear threats from North Korea and tech competition with China.
Yoon will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden for a summit and joint press conference on Wednesday and is scheduled to address Congress on Thursday in a visit that will highlight the 70th anniversary of the alliance cemented at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Seoul and Washington have strengthened defense ties under the Yoon administration, but questions about the reliability of the American nuclear umbrella have grown in South Korea amid a record-setting pace of weapons tests from Pyongyang, North Korea.
Some in Yoon's People Power Party have called for South Korea to develop nuclear weapons on its own, a position that has found support with the public. According to a survey last week by pollster Realmeter, 56.5% of respondents favor South Korea acquiring its own nuclear arsenal.
The Yoon administration has pushed for greater input in the planning and implementation of any nuclear response to North Korea, with observers expecting to see a joint statement as a key deliverable from the summit with Biden.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that the Biden session is going to provide more detailed and visible assurance measures around Korean input into the planning process of encountering North Korea's nuclear threats," Go Myong-hyun, a senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told UPI.
Go said Yoon's visit reflects a shared vision between the current administrations that extends beyond North Korea to global issues, including an increasingly assertive China and the Russian war in Ukraine.
"This alliance is multi-dimensional," he said. "And Yoon is signaling that he is like-minded when it comes to the state of the world today."
Accompanying Yoon is a delegation of 122 business leaders from South Korea's largest conglomerates, including the heads of Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motors, LG Corp. and chipmaker SK Hynix.
Trade issues around key areas including semiconductors, batteries and electric vehicles will be a focus of the visit, with the South Korean businesses looking to win concessions over contentious areas of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips and Science Act.
South Korea is also seeking greater long-term clarity on how to navigate Washington's sweeping tech export controls against China.
The United States meanwhile, wants Seoul to step up its support for Ukraine. South Korea has sent humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and has begun delivering weapons such as tanks and howitzers to Poland, but has so far stuck to its policy of not providing direct lethal aid to countries at war.
Yoon's trip marks the first state visit by a South Korean president since Lee Myung-bak in 2011 and is only the second time the Biden administration has pulled out all the stops for a foreign leader.
Other scheduled events include a joint visit by the first families to the Korean War Memorial in Washington and a state dinner, the White House said in a media advisory.
Yoon will also travel to Boston on Friday to meet with digital and biotech scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and deliver an address at Harvard University, his office said. He will return to Seoul on Saturday.