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US seeks stronger alliances to balance China in Seoul trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington on Feb. 26, 2021 in this photo released by the Associated Press. (AP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington on Feb. 26, 2021 in this photo released by the Associated Press. (AP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday they expect to forge stronger alliances with South Korea and Japan to resolve global security challenges and to counter an assertive China, in their trip to Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday, which immediately follows a visit to Tokyo.

“Our diplomats and defense leaders strategize together on how to confront shared threats such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” the top US envoy and defense chief said in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.

In the two-day trip to Seoul, Blinken and Austin are each expected to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization and inter-Korean affairs with the South Korean foreign and defense ministers, separately first and all together the following day.

The four officials dealing with North Korea could address the Biden administration’s policy review on Pyongyang, which is in the homestretch, according to Sung Kim, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Kim did not elaborate on the direction of a new approach.

Meanwhile Blinken and Austin stressed extending democratic alliances to the Indo-Pacific region to balance an increasingly assertive China, which they described as willing to use coercion to get its way.

“Our combined power makes us stronger when we must push back against China’s aggression and threats,” they said. A senior military official in Seoul also said the senior-level gathering this week will discuss building stronger military ties among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

Seoul has differences to work with both Washington and Tokyo. Korea and the US are still debating when to transfer the wartime operational command back to Seoul. Tokyo and Seoul have been at odds over Japan’s wartime sexual slavery and forced labor issues, rendering deeper cooperation elusive.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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