Sat, Aug 10, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Esper visits S Korea amid challenges

TOUCHY SUBJECTS:The Pentagon head avoided a trade dispute and remarks by President Trump on South Korea shouldering more of the upkeep for US troops

Reuters, SEOUL

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper yesterday met with senior South Korean leaders amid a series of regional challenges ranging from a bitter trade row between Seoul and Tokyo to the cost of US troops stationed in South Korea.

Esper, on his first international trip since being confirmed, arrived in South Korea on Thursday evening amid an escalating trade feud between two of Washington’s main Asian allies.

While the trade issue, which threatens regional intelligence sharing, came up in his meetings in Seoul, Esper reiterated the importance of the South Korean-US alliance and said that the allies would continue to coordinate on North Korea.

In his opening remarks at the meeting with Esper, South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo said that Japan’s export restrictions against South Korea were “causing adverse effects on South Korea-Japan relations and security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan.”

South Korea has said that it was exploring all options in the bitter trade dispute, including scrapping an intelligence-sharing pact.

The accord, the General Security of Military Information Agreement, facilitates three-way intelligence gathering with Washington, which is crucial in fending off North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The deal is automatically renewed annually on Aug. 24.

Relations between South Korea and Japan are at their worst in decades, with the trade row rooted in a long-running dispute over compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War II.

Esper arrived in Seoul a day after US President Donald Trump said that South Korea agreed to “pay a lot more” to shoulder the costs required for the upkeep of 28,500 US troops in South Korea and that talks are under way to discuss the issue.

However, a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on Thursday told reporters that the negotiations have not yet begun, and Yonhap news agency quoted a ministry official as saying yesterday that Esper did not mention the costs during his meeting with South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha.

The trip comes as North Korea has carried out a series of missile tests and with denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang stalled.

“At a time when the security environment is so severe, it is very meaningful to discuss the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the South Korea-US alliance,” Jeong said.

Noting that South Korea and the US have been working together to denuclearize North Korea, Jeong praised “President Trump’s amazing imagination that transcends conventions” for bringing about his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the inter-Korean border in June.

On Tuesday, Esper said that the US would not overreact to the short-range missile launches by North Korea and would keep the door open to talks with Pyongyang.

Despite complaints by North Korea, there was no plan to alter joint military drills with Seoul, he added.

Separately, South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday tapped a seasoned former diplomat as his new ambassador to Washington.

Lee Soo-hyuck, a veteran diplomat who was South Korea’s chief negotiator at six-party disarmament talks between 2003 and 2005, is a former deputy foreign minister and first deputy director of the South Korean National Intelligence Service.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top