Asia Minute: Biden Administration Faces Challenges on Korean Peninsula

Jan 22, 2021

The early days of the Biden Administration have been busy. One focus has been steps to control the pandemic and increase the distribution of vaccines. But a wide variety of other issues remain — including some with one of America's closest allies in the Asia Pacific.

It’s not at the very top of the presidential to-do list, but the cost-sharing agreement for the nearly 30,000 U.S. forces stationed in South Korea is up for review.

This was a major point of contention with the Trump Administration — which at one point asked South Korea to increase its payments by a factor of five.

Last October, then candidate Joe Biden wrote an editorial published by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency criticizing Trump’s approach — saying the U.S.-South Korean alliance should be strengthened “rather than extort Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops.”

This week, Biden’s nominee for Defense Secretary addressed the issue.

In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Retired Army General Lloyd Austin promised to “seek the early conclusion of cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea.”

Earlier this week, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State indicated a policy shift with North Korea.

Antony Blinken did not give a lot of details in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but said, “we intend to review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea,” calling it a “problem that has not gotten better” — adding that it got worse under the Trump Administration.

In Seoul this week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in reshuffled his cabinet — a move one national news outlet called “preparation to deal with the new U.S. administration, particularly on North Korea issues.”