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Top US diplomat for East Asia discusses supply chain, NK issue in Seoul

Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs (center), arrives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs (center), arrives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

The top US diplomat for East Asia held talks with officials in South Korea on Thursday, with the two sides agreeing to bolster ties in dealing with the global supply chain disruption and bring Pyongyang back to the stalled denuclearization talks. 

Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Seoul on Wednesday following a four-day stop in Tokyo. It marks his first Asia trip since taking office in September.

Kritenbrink met with his South Korean counterpart, Yeo Seung-bae, deputy minister for political affairs, in the morning.

The two sides agreed on the need to stably manage the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and discussed various ways to restart denuclearization talks with Pyongyang at an early date, according to a foreign ministry official.

“They also agreed to strengthen cooperation on global issues, including climate change, the COVID-19 response and supply chain,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

The US Embassy in Seoul in a Twitter post said the two envoys discussed how the allies can “continue to promote the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”

The State Department usually uses the “rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific” language in an apparent allusion to countering China’s assertiveness in the region.  

Later in the day, he held talks with Lee Sung-ho, deputy minister for economic diplomacy, as well as with senior officials from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Kritenbrink’s rare sessions with economy and trade officials suggest Washington’s focus on addressing ongoing global supply chain disruptions, specifically the semiconductor shortage, amid the intensifying rivalry between the US and China.

Washington has been rallying allies to join its efforts to reshape the global supply chain and be less dependent on China. South Korea’s delicate balancing act between its main security ally, the US, and its biggest trade partner, China, could be put to the test as the rivalry heats up, observers say.

The US official also met Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, in the afternoon, which appears to come as part of Washington’s efforts to establish ties with the main contenders ahead of the March 9 presidential election.

“I hope the South Korea-US alliance will continue to grow and develop into an economic alliance as well as global partnership,” Lee told Kritenbrink during their meeting.

Kritenbrink, in turn, stressed that his sole purpose is to demonstrate how much importance Washington places on the region and South Korea.

He is also slated to meet Yoon Seok-youl, the presidential nominee of the main opposition People Power Party on Friday.

Kritenbrink is a career diplomat who was most recently the ambassador to Vietnam. He has served multiple posts related to Asia, including senior adviser for North Korea policy at the department and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Considered a China expert, Kritenbrink also served in postings to the US embassies in Beijing and Tokyo and speaks fluent Chinese and Japanese.


By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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