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US stresses Korea-Japan relations before Blinken trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington last Wednesday. (AFP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington last Wednesday. (AFP-Yonhap)

The US stressed the importance of the trilateral relationship with South Korea and Japan, as well as between the two neighbors, as the country’s top diplomat embarked on a trip to East Asia amid the rising possibility that Washington could pressure the bickering allies to bury the hatchet and move forward.
 
The State Department released a statement titled “Reaffirming the Unbreakable US-Japan Alliance” on Sunday in the US, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin left Washington to visit Tokyo and Seoul this week in what is so far the Biden administration’s highest-level overseas trip.
 
The statement said that the administration is working to strengthen America’s relationship with its allies and the relationship between those allies, emphasizing that “no relationship is more important than that between Japan and the Republic of Korea.”
 
“The United States continues to promote expanded US-Japan-ROK cooperation to tackle COVID-19 and combat climate change, as well as reinvigorate trilateral cooperation on a broad range of global issues, including the denuclearization of North Korea,” it said.
 
It also stressed that a “robust and effective trilateral relationship” is critical for the joint security and interest in defending freedom and democracy, among others.
 
Blinken and Austin were set to arrive in Japan on Monday for meetings with their counterparts and “two-plus-two” meetings. The two US officials will then head to Seoul on Wednesday and stay until Thursday for a similar meeting here. Following the Seoul trip, Blinken will travel to Anchorage, Alaska, joined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, for a meeting with their Chinese counterparts -- Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official and Wang Yi, the foreign minister, on Thursday.
 
The US officials are expected to discuss a range of subjects while they are in Seoul, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, North Korea’s denuclearization, Indo-Pacific Strategy and ways to enlist support in countering threats from China.
 
As Washington puts trilateral cooperation at the center as ways to resolve outstanding issues in the region, it is largely expected that the US will further pressure the two neighbors to mend ties, which has been long strained over wartime history and trade.
 
Seoul and Tokyo have remained divided over history for decades, rooted in a dispute over Japan’s colonial rule. But the conflict reached a new level of acrimony after series of court rulings in favor of Korean victims of forced labor and sex slavery met with strong protest from the Japanese government.
 
In mind of possible pressure from Washington for improved ties with Japan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has recently sent a flurry of conciliatory overtures toward Japan, but Tokyo has yet to respond to such gestures.
 
By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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