Biden focuses on technology gaps and security during his first trip to Asia as president

President Biden's trip to Asia aims to improve economic and security relations with allies in the region, with plans to introduce a new regional economic framework designed to counter China's influence. Nick Schifrin reports, and Judy Woodruff speaks with Frank Jannuzi of the Mansfield Foundation and Bonnie Glaser of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden's trip to Asia aims to improve economic and security relations with allies in the region. And in the coming days, he plans to introduce a new regional economic framework designed to counter China's influence.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Person:

    You're now in the world's largest plant.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Outside of Seoul today, President Biden toured one of the world's most advanced semiconductor plants. He and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol were guided through the Samsung facility by American technicians.

  • President Joe Biden:

    You may be here, but don't forget to vote.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This plant is the model for a $17 billion facility that Samsung is building in Texas.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Thank you very much.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But in his first presidential speech in Asia, Biden focused on this region.

  • President Joe Biden:

    So much of the future of the world is going to be written here in the Indo-Pacific over the next several decades. 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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S.' attempt to focus on Asia will rely on newly inaugurated allies. Yoon is a conservative former prosecutor. He promises a tougher stance on North Korea and China than his predecessor.

  • Yoon Suk-Yeol, South Korean President (through translator):

    North Korea's denuclearization will greatly contribute to bring lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, this year, in slick propaganda videos, North Korea has shown off little peace and lots of tests. North Korea has held 16 launches, including what it claimed was a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

    And four years after North Korea's last nuclear test, researchers say Pyongyang is re-excavating demolished tunnels at its only nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri.

    This week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned of more tests.

  • Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Adviser:

    Either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or, frankly, both.

    Barack Obama, Former President of the United States: I believe that TPP is a plus for America's economy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Also on this trip's agenda, how to revisit the 2016 Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. President Obama made it the centerpiece of his pivot to Asia, but Hillary Clinton opposed it and former President Trump abandoned it.

    Eleven members of the TPP are now in a different treaty, but it still excludes the U.S. On Monday, Biden travels to Tokyo, where he will announce a new regional policy known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. He will also hold another meeting, as he did in September, with the leaders of the Quad, Australia, India, and Japan.

    It's the administration's effort, as the war in Ukraine rages, to show a keen focus on what U.S. officials believe has always been their top priority, China.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more on Biden's first trip to Asia as president, we get two perspectives.

    Frank Jannuzi is president of the Mansfield Foundation, which seeks to promote U.S. relations with Asia. He also worked at the State Department and as a staffer for then-Senator Joe Biden. And Bonnie Glaser is the director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

    Hello to both of you. Welcome back to the program.

    Frank Jannuzi, let me start with you.

    At this moment — what is it about this moment that you believe has led President Biden to go to Asia?

    Frank Jannuzi, President and CEO, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation: Thanks for the question, Judy.

    Deep in Biden's DNA about U.S.-Asia relations are the words of Mike Mansfield, who taught Biden that the most important bilateral relationship in the world for the United States, bar none, was the U.S.-Japan alliance.

    So, I think, at the core, you have Biden attempting to reassure allies in South Korea, Japan and across the Indo-Pacific that the U.S.' credible nuclear deterrence remains strong in the face of North Korea's continued nuclear testing and missile development, that the U.S. commitment to Asia will not be in any way diminished by the conflict under way in Europe, where the U.S. and NATO allies are responding to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    So, security leads here. And Biden's Asia DNA, if you will, inherited from Mansfield, has brought him to this region before traveling even to Kyiv.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Frank Jannuzi, just staying with you for just a moment.

    So, how worried is the United States, is South Korea about what North Korea is up to?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    I think that the U.S. allies are, frankly, a little bit more spooked by North Korea's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons than is the United States.

    North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a four-decade-long enterprise. Convincing them to abandon that pursuit remains a high priority for the United States. But, frankly, there's not much hope of big progress on that challenge anytime soon.

    So, the U.S. visit here by Biden to the region is to remind them that we are with them. There will be steps taken, I'm sure, to shore up that deterrence, including perhaps movement on enhanced military exercises. Also, they're working with both Japan and South Korea on developing limited counterstrike capabilities of their own, in terms of surface-to-surface missile technology.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    So, our allies want that reassurance, and Biden's going to give it to them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Bonnie Glaser, you were telling us that China is watching this.

    And even as it is distracted, more than distracted, with its own domestic problems right now, it is watching this trip with concern. Why?

  • Bonnie Glaser, German Marshall Fund:

    Well, that's right, Judy.

    I mean, the Chinese are, of course, very focused on the economic problems and that zero COVID policies have exacerbated. But the Chinese don't like the idea that the United States is so active in the Indo-Pacific region. The Chinese want to be dominant, certainly in East Asia.

    They see the U.S. as building NATO-like structures. That's what they call the Quad and the AUKUS arrangement, which is the United States and the U.K. and Australia, that aims to build the nuclear-powered submarines.

    So the Chinese say that the U.S. is just operating based on Cold War mentality, that China really is on the rise, this is its region, and that the United States should — should end its alliances and cede the region, essentially, to China.

    But, a couple of years ago, China's foreign minister was a lot less worried about the U.S. pivot to what — we called then the pivot to Asia. In fact, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, in 2018 called the Quad — he said this would dissipate like sea foam, the foam on the ocean.

    But, today, they're far more worried than they were then.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is that — Bonnie Glaser, again, just quickly — a quick follow-up.

    Is that because they actually fear what the U.S. and its allies could do in the region?

  • Bonnie Glaser:

    Well, they fear the building of what they see as anti-China coalitions regionally and globally.

    The G7 called out China for supporting the — Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The United States and Europe have been sending identical messages to Xi Jinping, China's leader, that China should not provide material support to the Russian economy or to the war effort.

    So I think that the Chinese see that there are key countries in the world that are pushing back against China, and they are worried that this could adversely affect their interests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And back to you, Frank Jannuzi.

    We heard Nick Schifrin reporting. Of course, another big part of this trip is the economic element. What can be accomplished here? I mean, the U.S. is in some delicate straits right now, as we just reported in our lead segment tonight. What can President Biden hope to create, to move forward, make progress on meeting with his Asian allies?

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Well, unfortunately for the president, most of the challenges he faces on the international trade front are here at home.

    There's no enthusiasm in the Congress for the kind of binding international trade agreement represented by the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So, facing that reality, the president is doing the next best thing, which is, he's working to develop friend-shoring, that is to say, working with countries that share our values, our democratic systems to enhance our supply chain resiliency, to reduce dependence on China for key technologies, inputs for the iPhone that I'm using to conduct this Skype interview with you this evening.

    And so the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that he will announce with much fanfare in Tokyo is designed to work with like-minded countries, really to work together to build more resilient, reliable supply chains, especially on digital economy, which the United States perceives to be very much at the core of our economic future.

    And I think that Asian partners will welcome this. But, frankly, it's sort of TPP-lite. And they would much prefer if the United States were to join what is now called the Comprehensive — the CPTPP, the new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The acronyms can make us a little crazy, but it's important to follow them.

    Bonnie Glaser, China looks on that economic arrangement how?

  • Bonnie Glaser:

    Well, the Chinese have been deeply engaged in the region economically.

    They have been providing loans to many countries in Southeast Asia. And they, in fact, have applied to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now called CPTPP, whereas, of course, the United States has not.

    So I think the — that China is less concerned about U.S. economic engagement in the region. In fact, last week, President Biden pledged $150 million to the Southeast Asian countries when eight of the Southeast Asian leaders visited the White House. And the Chinese quickly topped the offer by pledging $1.5 billion.

    So, I think that the Chinese are actually more worried about the security and diplomatic engagement of the United States than they are worried about U.S. economic influence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are following it all, and the two of you are following it all very closely.

    And we thank you so much. Bonnie Glaser, we thank you. Frank Jannuzi, we thank you.

  • Frank Jannuzi:

    Thanks very much.

  • Bonnie Glaser:

    Thank you.

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