U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with South Korean officials on Thursday and Friday to discuss the upcoming renewal a trilateral military intelligence-sharing pact between the US, South Korea, and Japan. The meetings were taking place as South Korea is in the middle of a hotly contested trade war with Japan following Tokyo’s discission to remove South Korea from its whitelist of countries receiving trade benefits for its semiconductors and smartphone displays. This has caused a nationwide boycott of popular Japanese products in South Korea such as beer, the cancelation of flights for vacations to Japan and more recently a hit on sales at casual clothing chain Uniqlo.
Before meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Secretary Esper met with Korean Defense Secretary Jeong Kyeong-doo at the country’s defense ministry’s headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul. Jeong told Esper “Japan was threatening the lynchpin of the trilateral security alliance” “by intensifying economic retaliation” against South Korea. Also discussed was the recent firing of short-range ballistic missiles and projectiles by North Korea on Saturday morning (August 10th) into the Sea of Japan, along with a submarine capable of carrying ballistic missiles. Kyeong also mentioned that “China and Russia are also posing growing security threats.” This after a Russian military plane violated South Korea’s airspace twice near the easternmost islets of Dokdo in the East Sea last month. Esper then responded saying ” “I come here today to reaffirm that the U.S. and the Republic of Korea alliance are ironclad.”
Following his meeting with Kyeong, Secretary Esper then met with President Moon Jae-in for about 30 minutes. Although no issues relating to South Korea’s defense cost-sharing were discussed it is thought Esper may have asked for South Korea’s possible participation in the U.S.-led maritime security initiative in the Gulf Region according to the Korean Times. The US in recent weeks has requested its allies, including South Korea, to send a warship to the Strait of Hormuz for the safety of commercial shipping in waters off Iran and Yemen following the seizure of oil tankers belonging to the UK and other countries from Iran.
Washington is also set to pressure South Korea to take on more of the burden for its defense cost-sharing next year for US troops that are stationed in the country.
The trip marks the end of a four-country trip for Secretary Esper, his first international trip as US defense secretary which included Australia, Japan and Mongolia, and South Korea is the last stop before heading back to Washington DC Friday Evening (South Korean time).
© 2019 Miller News Service