President Joe Biden called the US-South Korea alliance “a linchpin of peace, stability and prosperity” during a visit on Friday to a Samsung semiconductor complex as he seeks to bolster supply chains that reduce reliance on China.
“I’ve just seen how this plant makes the most advanced semiconductor chips in the world,” Mr Biden said following a tour of the facility, his first stop after landing in Seoul on a five-day visit to South Korea and Japan.
During the trip, Mr Biden’s first to Asia as president, he will meet regional leaders in a bid to firm up support for helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion and countering security threats posed by China and North Korea, which may conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 with Mr Biden nearby.
“The alliance between the Republic of Korea and United States of America is a linchpin of peace, stability, and prosperity for a region of the world that we seek,” Mr Biden said.
Mr Biden’s message was pitched towards the promise of a better tomorrow, yet was also aimed at US voters amid political challenges at home, such as inflation driven higher by the chip shortage, as he tries to show that his administration is delivering on economic growth.
The president's visit came as polling released on Friday by the Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research found Mr Biden’s US approval rating to be at 39 per cent, the lowest of his presidency.
The survey also found deepening pessimism about the economy and the state of the country.
About two in 10 adults in the US say the country is headed in the right direction or described the economy as good, down from about three in 10 in April.
South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl, who took office May 10, joined Mr Biden at the event and said that “based on advanced technology and supply chain co-operation”, he’d seek to upgrade US-South Korea relations “into an economic-security alliance”.
Mr Biden renewed his call for the US Congress to pass a broad China competition bill that includes $52 billion in funding for domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing.
The White House has often used the continuing global semiconductor shortage and its impact on inflation as arguments for approval of the massive subsidies programme.
But analysts say the shortage will last through 2023 and the domestic supply of chips coming online will not meaningfully alleviate the crunch.
Mr Biden touted plans for new US investment that Samsung announced late last year. The company chose Texas as the site of an advanced chip plant set to break ground this year, with a target to kick off operations in the second half of 2024.
“These little chips are the key to propelling us into the next era of humanity’s technological development,” Mr Biden said.
Meanwhile, Hyundai Motor Group announced plans to invest about $5.4bn to build its first dedicated full electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facilities in the US.
The company said it would break ground on the Georgia site in 2023. It is expected to begin commercial operations in 2025 with an annual capacity of 300,000 EV units, the car manufacturer said in a statement.
The South Korean auto group said it expects the plant to create 8,100 jobs.
Hyundai Motor Group, which sells cars under the Hyundai and Kia brands, already owns operates two American assembly plants in Montgomery, Alabama, and in West Point, Georgia.
Mr Biden was scheduled to attend a weekend event with the motor group's chairman to discuss “Hyundai’s decision to invest in a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility” in the area, the White House said.
Agencies contributed to this report