US Secretaries of State, Defense to visit S. Korea together for first time in 11 years

Posted on : 2021-03-17 17:06 KST Modified on : 2021-03-17 17:06 KST
The secretaries are scheduled to arrive Wednesday afternoon at Osan Air Base
US Secretary of State attends a virtual business roundtable Tuesday at the US Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo. (Reuters/Yonhap News)
US Secretary of State attends a virtual business roundtable Tuesday at the US Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo. (Reuters/Yonhap News)

Kim Yo-jong, deputy director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, delivered a “warning” to the new US administration a day ahead of a South Korea visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Kim’s remarks are focusing even more attention on what message the two secretaries send to Pyongyang during their visit.

Blinken and Austin were scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon from Japan at Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi Province, after which they were to respectively meet with South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong and Minister of National Defense Suh Wook.

The meeting between the two sides’ foreign ministers was scheduled to start at 6 pm that day, with the meeting between defense ministers starting around 4 pm and lasting for a little over an hour. In light of the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sides did not schedule joint luncheons and dinners during the visit.

For the second day of their visit Thursday, Blinken and Austin are scheduled to attend a “two plus two” meeting of the two sides’ foreign affairs and defense ministers, which is to begin at 9:30 am and last for around 90 minutes.

From there, they are scheduled to observe the initialing of the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on defense cost sharing, which was concluded in Washington on March 7. This is to be followed by a joint press conference of two plus two ministers at 11:30 am.

That press conference is to include the first joint statement issued by the US since the launch of Biden’s administration. In the afternoon, a courtesy visit has been scheduled with President Moon Jae-in.

This marks the first time in 11 years since July 2010 that the US secretaries of state and defense have visited South Korea simultaneously. The South Korean government has accordingly been assigning major significance to the visit.

Meeting with reporters Tuesday, a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official who helped prepare for the meeting said, “The fact that the Secretaries of State and Defense are visiting South Korea together so early in the Biden administration is a reflection of the Biden administration’s strong commitment to restoring leadership on global issues through the restoration of its alliances and cooperation based on those alliances.”

The official noted the significance of South Korea being included as one of the first stops early in the two secretaries’ terms, as well as the first simultaneous meeting of foreign affairs and defense ministers in five years.

“To people at home and overseas, this is a clear declaration of the importance and robustness of the South Korea-US alliance,” the official said.

In a separate release, MOFA elaborated on the two plus two meeting on Thursday, explaining its significance in terms of increasing strategic communication between foreign affairs and national defense leaders, closely coordinating on Korean Peninsula issues between the South Korea and US ministers of foreign affairs and defense, and cooperating on regional and global issues based on a robust South Korea-US alliance.

The two plus two meeting is to focus on four agenda areas: the South Korea-US alliance, peninsula issues, regional cooperation and global cooperation.

A MOFA official explained that this agenda was “not limited to security” but would also include “various pressing global issues” such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. They added that all of these issues were “shared tasks to be addressed in the context of the alliance relationship.”

In a Sunday guest opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Blinken and Austin said they would take advantage of their visits to “hold China accountable” together with South Korea and Japan. In particular, they announced plans to discuss issues such as human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, the erosion of autonomy in Hong Kong, the undercutting of democracy in Taiwan, and the assertion of maritime claims in the South China Sea in violation of international law.

The MOFA official avoided immediate comment on this, saying only that “the administration has its own positions” on the matters in question and that the two sides “can engage in sufficiently deep discussions because of their alliance relationship.”

Another focus of attention is on the Quad, a framework in which four countries — the US, Japan, Australia and India — are participating with the aim of reining in China. But observers are not predicting any dramatic changes emerging from the meeting in terms of the South Korean administration’s position on participating in the Quad.

The MOFA official reaffirmed the administration’s principle of “cooperating if it’s a consultative body premised on openness, inclusiveness and transparency.”

When asked about the possibility of the US demanding stronger bilateral cooperation with Japan or trilateral cooperation with Japan and the US, the official said the matter of improving South Korea-Japan relations was “not a new issue, but something the US has been consistently raising.”

In a regular briefing the same day, MOFA spokesperson Choi Young-sam commented on the statement released earlier that morning by Kim Yo-jong.

“Our administration remains unchanged in our position that inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea-US dialogue need to be quickly resumed so that there is progress with efforts to achieve complete denuclearization and the establishment of a robust peace regime,” Choi said.

“We intend to take advantage of several opportunities, including this visit by the US Secretaries of State and Defense, to continue pursuing in-depth discussions on ways in which South Korea and the US can work to advance the Korean Peninsula peace process,” he added.

In a statement previously made public by North Korean media, Kim Yo-jong said, “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration.”

“If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” she said.

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles