President Joe Biden and his new South Korean counterpart agreed on Saturday to increase military drills and deploy more US weapons to deter North Korea, while also proposing to supply COVID-19 vaccines and potentially meet Kim Jong Un.

Biden and Yoon Suk-yeol said their nations’ decades-old partnership needs to evolve not only to counter North Korean threats but also to maintain the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” and global supply networks safe.

The two leaders are meeting in Seoul for the first time since South Korea’s president was inaugurated 11 days ago. The meeting of allies was clouded by data indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ready to conduct nuclear or missile tests.

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Yoon had sought additional assurances that the US will strengthen its deterrent against North Korean threats. Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea with nuclear weapons if required in a joint statement.

The two sides agreed to reconsider extending their joint military exercises, which had been reduced in recent years due to COVID-19 and efforts to de-escalate tensions with the North.

According to the statement, the US also committed to deploy “strategic assets,” which normally include long-range bomber planes, missile submarines, or aircraft carriers, if necessary to deter North Korea.

Both leaders stated their commitment to denuclearizing North Korea and their willingness to engage in talks with Pyongyang.

“With regard to whether I would meet with the leader of North Korea, it would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious,” Biden said at a joint news conference.

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He claimed that Washington has offered COVID-19 vaccinations to China and North Korea, which are dealing with their first confirmed epidemic. “We’ve got no response,” Biden remarked.

On Saturday, North Korea reported more than 200,000 new fever patients for the fifth day in a row, but the country lacks vaccines and modern treatment for the pandemic.

The US-South Korean relationship, which dates back to the 1950-1953 Korean War, must be strengthened in order to preserve the Indo-Pacific “free and open,” according to Biden.

He stated that the alliance was founded on resistance to changing boundaries through force, a clear allusion to Russia’s conflict in Ukraine and China’s claims over Taiwan.

The joint statement emphasised the need of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, as well as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

When asked about probable Chinese reactions, Yoon’s national security advisor Kim Sung-han said the issues were directly related to South Korea’s national interests because its ships use the routes. “So I think there would be little room for Chinese retaliation or misunderstandings about this,” he said.

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Changes in international trade and supply chains have provided additional incentive for the US and South Korea to enhance their partnership, according to Yoon, who has called for collaboration on electric batteries and semiconductors.

Biden used his tour to promote Korean companies’ investments in the United States, notably a $5.5 billion commitment by South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group to develop its first dedicated fully electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facilities in the United States.

On Friday, the two leaders visited a Samsung semiconductor plant, where Biden stated that countries that “share values,” such as the United States and South Korea, ought to work together more to safeguard economic and national security.

Yoon stated that the concept of economic security will entail collaboration in the event of foreign exchange market disruptions.

South Korea’s president, eager to play a larger role in regional affairs, declared that his country will join Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which would be announced during the trip to establish labour, environmental, and supply chain standards.

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South Korea’s main commercial partner is China, and Yoon’s aides stressed that neither the joint statement nor the IPEF expressly exclude any country.

While White House officials have sought to downplay any specific message of fighting China, it is a subject of Biden’s tour that has piqued Beijing’s interest.

“We hope that the U.S. will match its words with deeds and work with countries in the region to promote solidarity and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, instead of plotting division and confrontation,” Liu Xiaoming, China’s envoy for Korean affairs, stated on Twitter.