Biden to host April state visit for South Korean leader Yoon

Biden visited South Korea and Japan last year, and has prodded the pair of critical US allies in a region that includes North Korea to mend relations with each other

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Delaware, on March 5, 2023.Patrick Semansky (AP)

President Joe Biden will crank up the pomp and pageantry for South Korea’s president. The White House on Tuesday announced its second state visit, an April 26 affair for President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife, Kim Keon Hee.

The occasion, which will include a splashy black-tie dinner honoring Yoon, stands apart from other visits by world leaders because of the associated pomp and pageantry that is orchestrated to celebrate ties between the United States and its closest allies.

The US has been working to deepen its relationships across Asia as a counterbalance to China’s rising influence. Biden visited South Korea and Japan last year, and has prodded the pair of critical US allies in a region that includes North Korea to mend relations with each other.

Yoon’s visit will celebrate 70 years of US-South Korea relations, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who characterized the ties as “critical to advancing peace, stability and prosperity for our two countries, the Indo-Pacific, and around the world.”

The last time that a South Korean leader was granted a state visit, a high diplomatic honor reserved for America’s closest allies, was in October 2011, when Barack Obama was president and Biden was vice president.

Biden and his wife, Jill, next month will welcome Yoon and his wife to a pomp-filled arrival ceremony on the South Lawn featuring patriotic music and goodwill speeches. Biden and Yoon will then meet in the Oval Office before the leaders and their top aides sit down for broader talks on a range of global and regional issues.

Afterward, Yoon will be feted at a State Department luncheon, typically hosted by the vice president, before he returns to the White House for a fancy dinner with hundreds of guests and a multiple-course menu and entertainment curated by the US first lady and her team.

Victor Cha, a senior vice president and the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign policy think tank in Washington, said South Korea has always been strongly allied with the US. He said Yoon’s visit will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, which formally ended the war between North and South Korea in July 1953.

One takeaway from Yoon’s visit is that South Korea is now “all in” and willing to work with the U.S., Japan, Australia, the European Union and others to counter challenges to the world order by Russia, China and North Korea, Cha said in an email.

He said Yoon “has shown himself to be fully in partnership” with Biden on strengthening supply chains, economic security, nonproliferation and other issues, along with being tough on North Korea and interested in improving relations with Japan.

“This is all significant because prior to Yoon, Korea was a bit adrift in its foreign policies – bad relations with Japan, cozying up to China and weak on North Korea,” Cha wrote.

Biden’s first state visit was for French President Emmanuel Macron in December. It was the first time that the White House had hosted a state visit since the coronavirus outbreak began in 2020.

Jill Biden went with a red-white-and-blue theme to honor Macron and his wife, Brigitte. More than 330 guests rode trolleys down the South Lawn driveway to an enormous heated pavilion where they were served an entrée of butter-poached Maine lobster. An image of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the US from France, was projected onto the wall behind the head table.

Jon Batiste, a Grammy Award-winning New Orleans native, sang after dinner.

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