Making the second stop on their Indo-Pacific policy tour, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III met with their counterparts in Seoul, South Korea. The message was similar to what was discussed with the Japanese – China and North Korea are stumbling blocks to peace in the region. Secretary Blinken meets with the Chinese delegation in Alaska on March 18 and 19.
In a report on the threats coming from North Korea, Liberty Nation explains the undercurrent of hostility coming from the Pyongyang government. Against that backdrop, however, Secretary Blinken minced no words in his remarks in Seoul and, according to Reuters, may have “disclosed a fissure” in the ways the U.S. and South Korea view China and North Korea. There was a difference in tone with which the U.S. lashed out at China and North Korea.
The difference in enthusiasm regarding China and North Korea may be attributable to geography and where South Korea sits next to its close neighbors. Additionally, the extremely close economic ties South Korea has with China would naturally have a chilling effect on the South Korean government taking too strident a stand against its neighbor. Nonetheless, Secretary Blinken urged his South Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, to “stand up to shared values,” ensuring that the two nations working together would prevent a “dangerous erosion of democracy” in the Indo-Pacific.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin held separate meetings with his South Korea’s Defense Minister Suh Wook. The Mil-to-Mil meeting’s general atmosphere was more defense-business-like, with reassurances made by both sides to support the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) alliance. The alliance has, as Secretary Austin put it, “been steadfast for seven – over 70 years, remains ironclad, and it is the linchpin of peace, security, and prosperity for Northeast Asia, a free and open Indo-Pacific region and across the world.”
The ROK military has been a reliable partner in keeping the situation between North and South Korea from becoming an active combat zone and supporting allies in the region. Both the U.S. forces and the ROK forces fully understand a dangerous neighbor exists to the north. Austin took the opportunity to acknowledge the solid partnership between the U.S. and ROK militaries:
“You have become a key provider of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, and for that, we are grateful. Given the unprecedented challenges posed by both the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China, the U.S.-ROK alliance has never been more important.”
The next stop for Secretary Blinken will be Anchorage, Alaska, where he and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with the Chinese delegation made up of Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, China’s director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After the discussion in Japan and South Korea and the clear messages sent that the U.S. considered China’s behavior in the region, particularly in the South China Sea, troubling, you might expect a Chinese response. You would be right.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian voiced the CCPs pique at the statements made, particularly in Japan. “Accepting the U.S. invitation demonstrates our goodwill and sincerity,” Lijian said. This statement, of course, establishes for the Chinese the foreign policy and diplomatic high ground (if there is such a thing). Lijian then made China’s South China Sea position very clear, In less than cordial terms. As Reuters reported:
“‘The U.S.-Japan joint statement is a malicious attack on China’s foreign policy and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, in an attempt to harm China’s interest,’ he said, calling Japan ‘a strategic vassal’ of the United States and asserting China’s ‘indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.'”
Productive discussions with Japan and South Korea reaffirmed the U.S.’s and its Indo-Pacific allies’ commitment to mutual support on major issues regarding China and North Korea. When Blinken and Sullivan sit down with Yi and Jiechi, there should be no fuzz on where the U.S. and its allies stand. Even so, the U.S. team is in for a rough ride.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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