By JOSH BOAK and AAMER MADHANI – Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Joe Biden addressed both business and security interests Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day visit to South Korea, showcasing Hyundai’s commitment to invest at least $10 billion in electric vehicles and related technologies in the United States.
He also said he was not concerned about possible provocation by North Korea during his tour of the region.
“We’re ready for anything North Korea does,” Biden said before visiting US and South Korean troops serving together on the peninsula.
When asked if he had a message for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Biden offered a curt response.
“Hello,” he said. “Period.”
It was another abrupt departure from his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who once said he had “fallen in love” with Kim.
Before leaving South Korea and heading to Japan, Biden appeared with Hyundai Chief Executive Eusiun Chung to highlight the company’s increased investment in the United States, including $5.5 billion. for an electric vehicle and battery plant in Georgia.
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“Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but they’re also good for jobs,” Biden said. “And they’re good for business.”
Chung also said his company would spend an additional $5 billion on artificial intelligence for self-driving vehicles and other technologies.
The major U.S. investment by a South Korean company reflects how the countries are leveraging their longstanding military ties into a broader economic partnership.
Earlier in his trip, Biden visited a computer chip factory run by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that plans to build a $17 billion production plant in Texas.
Biden has made greater economic cooperation with South Korea a priority, saying Saturday that “it will bring our two countries even closer, cooperating even more closely than we already do, and help strengthen our supply chains.” , to protect them against shocks and to give our economies a competitive advantage.
The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February have forced a deeper rethink of national security and economic alliances. The coronavirus outbreaks have led to shortages of computer chips, automobiles and other goods that the Biden administration says can ultimately be solved by having more manufacturing domestically and with trusted allies.
Hyundai’s Georgian plant is expected to employ 8,100 workers and produce up to 300,000 vehicles a year. Construction is expected to begin early next year with production beginning in 2025 near the unincorporated town of Ellabell.
But the Hyundai factory is showing there are also compromises as Biden pushes through with his economic agenda.
Earlier in his term, the president tried to tie electric vehicle production to automakers with unionized workers. As part of a $1.85 trillion spending proposal that stalled in the Senate, Biden wanted additional tax credits to go to buyers of electric vehicles made by unionized factories. It would have given a boost to the unionized auto plant owned by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV at a crucial time when union membership nationwide has been steadily declining.
During Samsung’s visit, Biden called on Korean companies building factories in the United States to hire unionized workers. In addition to its upcoming factory in Texas, Samsung has reached an agreement with Stellantis to build an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in the United States.
“I urge Samsung and Stellantis and any company investing in the United States to partner with our most skilled, dedicated, and committed workers you can find anywhere in the world: members of American unions,” he said. he declared.
So far, there is no guarantee that workers at Hyundai’s Georgia plant will be unionized.
Georgia is a “right to work” state, which means that workers cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.
A Hyundai spokesperson did not respond to an email asking if the Georgia plant would be unionized. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said there was no contradiction between Biden encouraging investors to embrace union labor while his administration does “all it can” to encourage investment and create jobs in the United States.
Ahead of Sunday’s announcement with Hyundai, Biden attended mass at his hotel in Seoul with White House staffers. Biden will also meet with service members and military families at Osan Air Base and address U.S. and Korean troops. Biden and Korean President Yoon Sook Yeol announced on Saturday that they would consider expanding joint military exercises to deter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
The push for deterrence by Biden and Yoon, which is less than two weeks away from his presidency, marks a shift in leadership from their predecessors. Trump had considered scrapping the drills and expressed affection for North Korea’s Kim. And South Korea’s last president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim until the end of his term despite repeated rebuffs from the North.
Biden decided to skip a visit to the demilitarized zone on the northern and southern border, a regular stop for US presidents when visiting Seoul. Instead, Biden, who had visited the DMZ as vice president, was more interested in visiting Osan to see a “where the rubber hits the road” facility for US and South Korean troops providing security in the area. peninsula, White House national security adviser Jake said. Sullivan.
Yoon campaigned on the promise to strengthen relations between the United States and South Korea. He reiterated at a Saturday dinner honoring Biden that his goal was to advance relations “beyond security concerns” with North Korea, which have long dominated relations.
“I will try to design a new future vision for our alliances with you, Mr. President,” Yoon said.
Biden will travel to Tokyo later on Sunday. On Monday, he will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and outline his vision for negotiating a new trade deal called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
A central theme of the trip, Biden’s first to Asia as president, is to tighten U.S. alliances in the Pacific to counter China’s influence in the region.
But within the Biden administration, a debate is ongoing over whether to lift some of the $360 billion in Trump-era tariffs on China. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently said some of the tariffs hurt US businesses and consumers more than China.
On Tuesday, Japan will host Biden at a summit for the Quad, a four-nation strategic alliance that also includes Australia and India. The American president will then return to Washington.
Associated Press writers Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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