Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are more than halfway through their weeklong Asia trip,marking the Biden Adminstration's highest-level overseas trip thus far.
They began the week in Tokyo, where they met their Japanese counterparts, and agreed to stand united against China's growing geopolitical clout and breaches of international norms.
Today, on Friday, the U.S. officials wrap up their time in Seoul, after talks with Foreign and Defense ministers Chung Eui-yong and Suh Wook.
But will it be as easy to get South Korea on board with the pressure campaign, before the two U.S. secretaries jet off to meet their Chinese counterparts? And, of course, Seoul's main agenda has, as ever, been to bump up talks with North Korea on Washington's list of priorities. Will this work?
To address these questions and more, today we connect with John Delury, Professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies.
We also welcome back Alexis Dudden, Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.
1. John: North Korea is clearly one of the Moon administration's top priorities. How receptive do you think Washington will be to Seoul's push to revive active engagement with the North? Also, what do you think Washington would ask of Seoul, in return?
2. Alexis: It seems Blinken's focus will be on getting South Korea to strengthen its commitment to America's alliance of democratic countries against China. But is Seoul as interested in that agenda as it is in pushing for the revival of U.S.-North Korea talks?
3. John: Blinken said this week that Washington has been attempting contact with Pyeongyang through multiple channels since mid-February, but hadn't yet received a response. Then North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong broke the silence to criticise the joint S. Korea-U.S. military drills, warning Biden not to make a stink if he wants to sleep well. On Thursday morning, just hours before the 2+2 meeting was set to take place, North Korea's first Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke out, saying Pyeongyang will ignore America's attempts at making contact if itdoesn't retract policies that paint theNorth as the enemy.What do you make of this message? How do you think North Korea will approach the Biden administration?
4. Alexis: South Korea committed to raising its contributions towards keeping U.S. troops on the peninsula, by 13.9 percent this year, and increase the rate annually in proportion with the growth of South Korea's defense budget. Do you think this was simply to demonstrate its commitment to the U.S. alliance, or do you think there's a deeper meaning behind the move?
5. John: Blinken said that the Biden administration's ongoing policy review involves the evaluation of "all available options" to address the North Korean threat. How do you think the Biden administration should approach North Korea and a denuclearisation deal? How should misperceptions between the two sides, and misunderstanding of goals and intentions be removed?
6. Alexis: How important is it for the U.S. to convince South Korea and Japan to overcome their rift and work together? The Biden administration has called Seoul the 'linchpin" of the U.S. alliance in the Indo-pacific while Tokyo is a more fundamental 'cornerstone.' The U.S. president phoning Mr. Suga about a week before he called Mr. Moon was seen by some as an indication that South Korea is still of lesser importance for Washington. Do you think the dynamics of the trilateral relationship will change under Biden -- and Suga who may lack the kind of diplomatic finesse Abe had towards the Trump administration?
7. Alexis: Seoul-Tokyo relations are said to be at their lowest level, after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that Japanese companies should compensate surviving Korean victims of forced labour before and during World War II -- following which Japan protested with damaging trade measures against Korean companies. To what extent do you think South Korea and Japan would be able to improve their ties? Will they revisit historical issues, or will they work out a more detached working relationship?
8. John: Japan's taken an unprecedented diplomatic stand against China, joining the U.S. in pointing out the problems they have with Beijing, from its human rights abuses to territorial claims. Now, when it comes to South Korea, there's been ambiguity around whether Seoul would join the U.S. and Japan, who, together with India and Australia, make up the Quad alliance. While it makes up its mind, China has been noticeably more friendly towards Seoul, President Xi Jinping making sure to get his South Korean counterpart on the phone a week before Joe Biden did. What do you think Seoul is leaning towards and how do you think China would react, if South Korea does become a part of the Quad group?
5. Will South Korea and Japan be able to distance themselves from Beijing, considering how they inked the China-led RCEP deal last year?
That was John Delury, Professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and Alexis Dudden, Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. Thank you for your time.