It's been 5 weeks since Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, declaring to the world that America is back.
As Washington moves to reengage with its allies and recommit to the spirit of multilateralism, governments around the world have been recalculating their diplomatic strategies in anticipation of Biden's foreign policy.
Among them, South Korea, as a key ally of the U.S., has been hoping for greater engagement and better relations after four years of Donald Trump tested the strength of their partnership.
As the two countries face common challenges from climate change to nuclear threats from North Korea, how can they best cooperate to move forward stronger and firmer in their alliance?
We turn to Mark Tokola, Vice President, Korea Economic Institute of America who is a veteran diplomat of 38 years in service. His last posting was as Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in London. Before that, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassies in South Korea, Mongolia; and Iceland. Mr. Tokola received the State Department's Superior Honor Award for his role in implementing the Dayton Peace Accords during his time as Political Counselor in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It's a great pleasure and an absolute honour to have you on our show.
Welcome Mr. Tokola.
During the Obama administration, you were here in Seoul at the U.S. Embassy as Deputy Chief of Mission. After you retired from diplomatic service, Seoul-Washington ties turned rather frosty over trade and shared defense costs, under the Trump government. Which sticking points remain and will relations warm between Seoul and Washington's new foreign policy handlers?
The Obama administration was criticised for being rather passive towards Asia and enabling the rise of China. How seriously is the Biden administration taking its ideological and economic rivalry with Beijing?
Will President Biden increase pressure on its allies like South Korea and those in the European Union that are strongly allied with the U.S. but depend heavily on trade with China? What kind of demands do you think Washington may make?
Mr. Biden's 'Made in all of America' agenda has been raising concern that the world's largest economy won't be shifting away from Donald Trump's protectionist policies or striking up significant trade deals.
Will America increase incentives for allied nations to turn away from China or offer an alternative market? Do you see any opportunities to strengthen economic partnership between Seoul and Washington?
The Biden adminsitration has pledged to bring America back to the head of the table of global governance dealing with challenges in health, security, climate and technological standards. South Korea will be attending the G7 meeting in Cornwall this summer, along with Australia and India, which may shape up to become a more permanent group of ten democratic nations or D10.
How can South Korea become a key player, and not merely a follower of global governance?
Japan showed displeasure towards South Korea's joining of the G7 meeting last year, and their rocky relations might become a factor if Seoul joins the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Do you see their ties improving under the Biden adminsitration?
6. There has been no communication between Washington and Pyongyang since President Biden took office. While the State Department has said North Korea is "an urgent priority" for the U.S., it's still uncertain what the administration's policy on Pyeongyang looks like. North Korea has also been relatively silent over the last few months. As the two sides size each other up, what do you think is the best way to move constructively into dialogue? What are previous missteps you hope to see the Biden Administration and the Kim regime avoid?
7. Do you think talks on denuclearisation have any hope, or is step-by-step disarmament the best we can hope for?
Mark Tokola, Vice President, Korea Economic Institute of America, thank you for joining us from Washington, D.C.