E.t was a visit designed to underscore the close ties between the allies, the United States and South Korea. Unintentionally, however, the stay of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin in Seoul also exposed the differences of opinion between the American and South Korean governments with regard to North Korea and China.
Correspondent for business and politics in Japan, based in Tokyo.
In Seoul, Blinken criticized the “systematic and comprehensive” human rights violations in North Korea and thus reaffirmed the fresh approach to North Korea policy compared to Donald Trump’s previous government. The South Korean government of the former civil rights activist Moon Jae-in is very cautious about human rights in public in order not to jeopardize the attempt to develop relations with the North.
The reluctance goes so far that the majority of Moon’s Democrats in parliament banned activists from sending leaflets to the north by law in December denouncing the regime of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un. South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said in an interview on the sidelines of the meeting that the Americans had been told that improving human rights should go hand in hand with practical improvements inside North Korea.
Blinken asks China to influence North Korea
In the final declaration of the meeting of four foreign and defense ministers, they confirmed the common priority of achieving nuclear disarmament in North Korea. Generally speaking, ministers expressed their willingness to address and resolve these problems.
There are also differences in the positioning towards China. Blinken spoke of Beijing’s aggressive, authoritarian behavior, which is challenging stability, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. South Korea, which is very dependent on China for foreign trade, is of course pursuing a policy towards its larger neighbor that analysts in Seoul describe as strategic ambiguity. In the final declaration of the meeting of four, China is not mentioned at all and only mentioned in general terms of resistance to all activities that undermine and destabilize the rules-based international order. Two days earlier in Tokyo, the American guests, together with the Japanese government, had explicitly mentioned China by name.
The comparison makes it clear that it will not be easy for the United States to stand together with South Korea and Japan against China. South Korea’s Chung said there was no talk of South Korea’s participation in the quad group of America, Japan, Australia and India. The Quad is a loose forum in which the governments work together towards an international order based on free values in the Pacific region.
Blinken left after the talks in South Korea to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wan in Anchorage. While still in Seoul, he called on the Chinese government to use its great influence on North Korea to advance the country’s nuclear disarmament. Beijing has a clear self-interest in it because North Korea is a source of instability, Blinken said. Regarding the new American policy towards North Korea, which the government of Joe Biden is currently working out, Blinken said in front of journalists only that the government is watching everything with an open eye.
Hours earlier, the North Korean government rejected talks with the United States until Washington gave up hostilities against the country. North Korea’s first deputy foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, confirmed Blinken’s earlier statement that the new American administration had been trying to contact Pyongyang through various channels since mid-February. Choe called the conversation offers a ploy to buy time. North Korea has only heard crazy theories of the “threat from North Korea” and the rhetoric of complete denuclearization from the new regime in Washington, Choe said.
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