March 17, 2021 4:00:16 pm
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin arrived in Seoul on Wednesday as the Biden administration underlines its commitment to security and stability in the Asian region after the diplomatic vagaries of the Trump era.
Austin is to be joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken for talks with South Korean officials on how best to counter the security risks posed by China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
In first comments carried by the South Korean Yonhap news agency, Austin emphasized the importance of the US-South Korean alliance in the face of the threats from China and North Korea.
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said it was important for the allies to maintain a strong deterrence and joint defense posture against North Korea, the agency added.
What has been said about the US stance on North Korea?
The two visiting US officials have already called during their trip for “the complete denuclearization of North Korea.” Pyongyang rejects this idea and has always demanded the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” instead — a move that could theoretically also include the US’ nuclear protection of the South.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s influential sister this week warned Washington not to create “a stink at its first step” if it wants to “sleep in peace for the coming four years.” Kim Yo Jong’s statement was the first time the communist state has referred explicitly to the new administration in Washington, though Joe Biden was elected more than four months ago.
Diplomatic contact between North Korea and the US regarding the former’s nuclear program has been on ice since a February 2019 summit between former US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. The talks collapsed over disputes about US-led sanctions.
What is on the agenda for the Biden officials in Asia?
On the first leg of their regional tour in Japan, Austin and Blinken joined with officials there in criticizing China’s “coercion and aggression,” while also reaffirming their intent to stop North Korea from building up a dangerous nuclear arsenal.
After South Korea, Lloyd will head to India for talks with his counterpart Rajnath Singh. The Pentagon said Lloyd will discuss deepening a strategic partnership with India vis a vis China, as relations between Delhi and Beijing have soured over a border dispute.
Blinken will return to the US and is expected to meet national security adviser Jake Sullivan for talks in Anchorage, Alaska, with Chinese government officials.
Ahead of those talks, the US on Wednesday sanctioned an additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing’s repression of political freedoms in Hong Kong. Blinken said the move reflected Washington’s “deep concern” about China eroding autonomy there.
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