Washington, Seoul to Make N.Korean Nukes a Priority

  • By Cho Yi-jun

    March 18, 2021 13:37

    The South Korean and U.S. foreign and defense chiefs on Thursday reaffirmed their commitment to the bilateral alliance and vowed to make North Korea's nuclear and missile programs a priority.

    Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook met with their U.S counterparts Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin in Seoul on Thursday morning.

    The U.S. secretaries of state and defense arrived here on Wednesday after a visit to Tokyo on their first trip to Asia since the Biden administration took office early this year.

    The two sides in a joint statement "reaffirmed that the [South Korea]-U.S. alliance, forged in blood on the battlefield 70 years ago, serves as the linchpin of peace, security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region."

    They said the "North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues are a priority for the alliance," and "reaffirmed a shared commitment to address and resolve" them.

    They "should be addressed through a fully-cooperated strategy toward North Korea" between the two allies, they added, and pledged "high-level consultations on the United States' ongoing North Korea policy review." 

    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook (from left) pose for a photo in Seoul on Thursday.

    But right after their arrival Wednesday, the two U.S. officials mainly lambasted China as a security threat, saying the world’s most populous country is undermining democracy in the region.

    That suggests Washington is upping the pressure on Seoul to take sides in its cold war against Beijing.

    Blinken urged Seoul to "stand up to shared values" to prevent a "dangerous erosion of democracy' in the region," while Austin cited "unprecedented challenges" from North Korea and China.

    Blinken also pressured the government here to stop appeasing North Korea, saying, "The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systemic and widespread abuses against its own people."

    The fact that Blinken and Austin called both China and North Korea equally threatening makes it clear that the Biden administration is more determined to confront them than Seoul had hoped.

    This is a heavy burden for the government here, which is trying as far as possible to sit on the fence in the U.S.-China standoff and has staked its fate on rapprochement with North Korea.

    Blinken and Austin minimized their itinerary due to the coronavirus epidemic, cancelling an official dinner and replacing an in-person meeting with the U.S. Embassy staff with a virtual one.

    They will also not be observing an ongoing computer-simulated joint military drill, though they are to pay a courtesy visit to President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday afternoon. 

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