Pentagon chief likely to visit S. Korea soon; related consultations under way

SEOUL– South Korea and the United States are in consultations to arrange a visit to Seoul by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday, as the allies seek to bolster deterrence against growing North Korean military threats.

Austin’s visit, if realized, is expected to focus on strengthening America’s trilateral security cooperation with its Asian allies, the South and Japan, amid questions here over Tokyo’s drive for stronger armament backed by Washington, observers said.

“The issue of Secretary Austin’s visit here is a matter that the two countries’ defense authorities have been discussing, and we cannot offer any details at this point,” the ministry said in a statement.

The exact date of Austin’s possible visit to Seoul remains unknown, but speculation has emerged that he could arrive here later this month after the Lunar New Year holiday, which runs from Saturday to next Tuesday.

When in Seoul, Austin is likely to pay a courtesy call on President Yoon Suk Yeol and hold talks with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-sup.

During the meetings here, Austin could explain the outcome of the White House summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday (Washington time).

At the summit, Biden threw his weight behind Japan’s push to beef up its military capabilities under its newly revised key security documents. His backing came as many South Koreans have doubts over the security push by Japan, which they believe has yet to fully atone for its colonial-era wrongdoings.

His agenda could also include the reaffirmation of Washington’s security commitment to South Korea as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hardened his rhetoric against the allies.

During last month’s key ruling party gathering, Kim raised the need for an “exponential” increase in his country’s nuclear arsenal and named the South an “undoubted” enemy, while unveiling a plan to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile and launch a military surveillance satellite at the “earliest possible date.”

Earlier this month, Seoul’s defense ministry briefed Yoon on a plan to hold defense ministerial talks between the allies three times or more this year.

The allies’ defense chiefs usually meet at the regional security gathering, called the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore in June, and at their annual Security Consultative Meeting in November.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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