Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from left) speaks while Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left), South Korean Secretary of State Chung Eui-yong (second from right) and South Korean Secretary of Defense Suh Wook (right) listen during the joint press conference after their Meeting on Thursday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul, South Korea. Lee Jin-man / AP Hide caption
Lee Jin-man / AP
Lee Jin-man / AP
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin left East Asia Thursday after reassuring their allies, affirming American diplomacy and setting out foreign policy priorities on the Biden administration’s first overseas trip at the cabinet level.
But the trip also revealed the allies’ differing interests and political approaches to the two issues that played a major role during the visit: North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and China’s growing assertiveness.
“We welcome the return of America, the return of diplomacy and the return of the alliances that began with the inauguration of the Biden administration,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday in the Blue House across from Blinken and Austin, Seoul’s equivalent to the white House.
Moon added that he would work closely with the US on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
However, officials in both countries used conflicting language regarding denuclearization, which left it unclear whether North Korea is required to unilaterally denuclearize or whether the US is expected to do so by removing its “nuclear umbrella” which is defending South Korea as it is Pyongyang asks to return the favor.
Shortly before Blinken’s remarks, North Korea’s first deputy foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, confirmed in a statement that the North Korean government had deliberately ignored US efforts to contact it and will continue to do so until Washington abandons its “hostile policy”.
She highlighted the “baseless US rhetoric about” total denuclearization “and added:” We will keep an eye on all the bad deeds engrossed in the new regime in the US. “
While the US and South Korea share democratic values, their policies are not fully aligned, said Kim Hyun-wook of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.
China is another example of this. Blinken and Austin repeatedly claimed China threatened regional stability and security, but its South Korean hosts did not reiterate the idea in their remarks or joint statement.
“The Biden government wants South Korea to work with the United States to deter China,” said Kim, “but South Korea wants the Biden government to be more focused on dialogue with North Korea rather than sanctioning and pressuring Pyongyang put.” The two sides can better coordinate their priorities through compromise, he added.
On this issue, Blinken and Austin had a little more luck in Tokyo, where Japan and the USA criticized China in a joint statement.
Given the shift in public opinion against China in Japan, “Japan’s reluctance to name names in relation to China is already out of date,” said Yoshihide Soeya, professor emeritus at Keio University in Tokyo.
One of the main goals of the Blinken Austin trip, Soeya said, was “to keep Japan on the US side … and I think they managed to do that.”
In the long term, if China ousts the US as the dominant power in Asia and Tokyo can no longer count on Washington, Japan and other medium-sized powers in the region will hedge their bets by strengthening relationships, said Soeya.
“We have to learn to live in the shadow of China,” said Soeya. “Building networks of cooperation between regional countries – this is our ultimate China strategy.”
Soeya noted that another important mission of Blinken’s trip to Austin was to close the serious divide between Japan and South Korea – the two main allies – and the region’s most advanced economies and democracies.
Historical feuds over the history of World War II and the colonization of Korea by Japan between 1910 and 1945 have shaken relations between the two neighbors and undermined economic and security cooperation.
Moon recently expanded olive branches to Tokyo, indicating that he is ready to collaborate, but there has not been a public statement of consensus between Blinken and its Japanese hosts on the matter.
Blinken will meet with Chinese colleagues in Alaska on Thursday and Friday.