Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 6 News List

New Pentagon chief Mattis to visit South Korea, Japan


US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, left, greets US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington on Saturday.

Photo: AP

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis plans to travel to Japan and South Korea next month on his first trip as the Pentagon’s new chief, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

He is set to depart on Wednesday next week for South Korea, before traveling to Tokyo on Friday.

“The trip will underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances to Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen US-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said.

The trip comes amid worries among the two long-standing US allies about the direction of Washington’s policy in their region under US President Donald Trump.

During his campaign, Trump threatened to withdraw US forces from the two nations if they do not step up their financial support.

Mattis is to be the Trump administration’s first senior official to shed light on the specifics of Washington’s intentions in the region.

He is set to meet his counterparts and other senior officials, Davis said.

Tensions are also rising with China over its moves to assert its sovereignty in disputed areas of the South China Sea and over North Korean threats to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland.

Trump has angered China with a hard line against Beijing, threatening an economic trade war and upending decades of US policy on Taiwan.

In another jarring note for the region, Trump this week withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement signed by former US president Barack Obama, but never ratified by US Congress.

The agreement was signed by 12 nations bordering the Pacific. In addition to the US, signers include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Since his appointment earlier this month, Mattis has sought to reaffirm Washington’s major alliances.

On Monday, he emphasized its “unshakeable commitment” to NATO.

During his US Senate confirmation hearings, he stressed the US strategic interest in its alliances with Japan and South Korea.

“The United States is stronger when we uphold our treaty obligations, [but]we expect our allies and partners to uphold their obligations as well,” Mattis said.

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