White House says North Korea planning nuclear or ICBM test around Biden visit

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White House officials warned on Wednesday that North Korea is planning some sort of weapon test around President Joe Biden’s visit to Asia this weekend.

The president departed for the trip on Thursday, meaning that the US expects a test or weapons display to occur imminently. The president is visiting Japan and South Korea on the five-day mission which comes amid US efforts to show support for allies in the region and dissuade China from what the US administration believes are territorial ambitions in the region.

Mr Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan briefed reporters on the issue at Wednesday’s daily press briefing, hosted by newly-promoted press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test including long-range missile test or a nuclear test or frankly both in the days leading into, on, or after the president’s trip,” he said.

“We are certainly preparing for all contingencies” regarding what steps should be taken should such a weapons test should occur while Mr Biden in in the region, which he said could include “adjustments to [the US] short-term or long-term military posture” in east Asia, Mr Sullivan continued.

The remarks were a clear warning to the isolated hermit state, which briefly saw tentative relations with the US begin under former President Donald Trump before those talks broke down.

The test of some kind of weapons system amid Mr Biden’s visit would be far from an unprecedented step taken by the North Korean government. Just earlier this month Pyongyang ordered a ballistic missile launch less than a week before South Korea’s new president, who took a more aggressive tone towards his northern neighbour during his campaign, was sworn in.

Mr Biden’s trip to the region comes as the US foreign policy apparatus is concerned about a number of dynamics in east and southeast Asia; two of the most prominent being Chinese political influence and alleged territorial ambitions (including their openly stated desire for the absorbtion of Taiwan) as well as ongoing efforts to isolate Russia’s economy and military on the global stage in retribution for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The diplomat-in-chief is expected to meet a number of regional leaders while in Japan, as well as South Korea’s newly-elected President Yoon Suk-yeol. While in Japan he will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, India’s Narendra Modi, as well as whoever comes out on top following Australia’s election on Saturday.

Mr Biden’s first visit to the region as president “will show in living color that the United States can at once lead the world in responding to Russia's war in Ukraine, and at the same time chart a course for effective, principled American leadership and engagement in a region that will define much of the future of the 21st century," Mr Sullivan added on Wednesday.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry noted on Thursday that Beijing was “closely following news of US President Biden’s visit to Asia”.

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