Asia Street: What the US-South Korea White House Summit Could Mean for Business

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What the US-South Korea White House Summit Could Mean for Business

May 13, 2021

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

BGA’s South Korea team, led by Managing Director B.J. Kim, wrote an update to clients previewing the upcoming U.S.-South Korea White House summit meeting. The update explored the potential agenda items as well as some of the economic and business implications that could be of interest to companies.

Context

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be the second head of state to visit the Biden White House when he meets with U.S. President Joe Biden on May 21, with the first engagement of that type being Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit in April.

The meeting comes as the Moon reaches the end of his term as president while Biden begins to roll out his foreign policy agenda. The Biden administration has been signaling the White House visit as part of its Asia-first foreign policy focused around investing more in its alliances and forging a stable but competitive approach towards China.

Significance

Though this first meeting between Moon and Biden is an opportunity for them to build personal trust and goodwill, Moon may also drive his own urgent agenda items. Domestically speaking, Moon is running out of time as he only has a few months before the next presidential elections in March 2022 and is term-limited.

Moon’s independent and strong views on certain foreign policy subjects may lead to some divergences in private despite public statements to the contrary. In particular, Moon’s opinions on issues such as North Korea, China and Japan are not fully in sync with those of the Biden team.

Implications

BGA clients can expect a commitment from the Moon and Biden administrations to cooperate on business and economic issues. Moon may push for U.S. pledges of vaccine support to speed up Seoul’s vaccination campaign, and South Korea may in turn help U.S. manufacturers secure a more stable supply of semiconductors and batteries during the global chip shortage.

There may be announcements on opportunities in sectoral areas. These include renewable energy cooperation along with blue and green hydrogen production and use. There could also be other collaborations announced by companies accompanying Moon, including SK Group, Samsung Electronics and LG Energy Solutions.

More sensitive geopolitical matters such as those related to North Korea and China may not produce major breakthroughs. While the Biden administration has completed its North Korea policy review and is looking for more allied coordination on China, any alignment is likely to be limited and general focused on the Indo-Pacific and the allied areas of common interest regionally and globally.

BGA’s South Korea team will continue to keep you updated on developments at home and abroad as they occur and assess the implications for companies and other stakeholders.