US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's Asia Venture Seeks to Calm Jittery Allies

03 February, 2017, 00:44 | Author: Brian Mcdaniel
  • US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's Asia Venture Seeks to Calm Jittery Allies

Mr. Mattis described his trip, the first overseas visit for any cabinet secretary under Mr. Trump's new administration, as a listening tour.

In July 2016, Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea's Seongju County amid growing tensions in the region spurred by North Korea's ballistic and nuclear tests.

U.S. Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, the United States Forces Korea commander, greeted Mattis, who arrived at the U.S. Osan Air Base in Korea shortly after noon Thursday.

With South Korean elections on the horizon and China continuing to demonstrate its opposition to the defense system, the future of the THAAD is likewise uncertain. China fears that the planned deployment may be an attempt by the U.S.to extend its military network towards the South China Sea, a highly contested part of the region.

Lu said Beijing would stay on high alert for "any further moves by the US and South Korea that will harm China's security", and warned that Beijing would hit back with "tit-for-tat measures".

This, after a presidential campaign in which Trump insisted South Korea and Japan needed to pay more for their own defense, that both countries should have nuclear weapons (neither South Korea nor Japan wants to) and that he would be willing to meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un (neither South Korea nor Japan supports that, either).

The two countries say the deployment is created to protect against North Korea's growing nuclear and ballistic capabilities, which have been advancing despite years of efforts by the global community.

He may also be attacking an early challenge to his administration: North Korea.

Beyond its long-range missile aspirations, the North already has missiles capable of hitting South Korea as well as US bases in Japan. The effort was beginning in South Korea, where Mattis also visited the headquarters for USA troops stationed here.

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Experts say it is likely laying low until Trump's policies become clear and in order to avoid stoking security concerns while the drama over Park's impeachment plays out.

Mattis plans a visit with high-ranking South Korean military officials on Friday.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul condemned the statement and urged North Korea to "stop its bellicose rhetoric and take the path toward denuclearization and changes", the Yonhap news agency reported.

"Two of the most enduring alliances that we've had have been between Japan and us and of course South Korea and the United States and together we confront the North Korean situation", Mattis told reporters on his plane en route. He met with acting President Hawng Kyo-ahn Wednesday, who took over as the South Korean leader after President Park Geun-hye was pushed from power for her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

Speaking to reporters during the 20-hour flight to Seoul, Mattis said the views of "America's strong allies" was a "priority" for the administration of President Donald Trump.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and its main ally, the USA, conducted more than 20 missile tests previous year, as well as two nuclear tests, in defiance of United Nations resolutions and sanctions.

There are about 28,500 USA troops based in South Korea and 47,000 in Japan.

Mattis' Asia tour comes as relations between the U.S. and other world powers such as Mexico and Australia get off to a rocky start. But defense cost-sharing and controversial free trade agreements between the USA and South Korea - two key themes of President Donald Trump's campaign - did not come up in conversation. The president has also pulled out of a major trade deal with Asian allies.

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