SEOUL — The foreign and defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea stressed Thursday that the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues are a “priority” for their alliance, and underscored the importance of three-way cooperation that also involves Japan.
In a joint statement issued following their so-called two-plus-two talks in the South Korean capital Seoul, the officials also pledged to continue promoting cooperation for peace, security and prosperity in the region.
The talks involving U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui Yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook came as the administration of President Joe Biden conducts a review of North Korea policy.
Reaffirming a shared commitment to addressing and resolving the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues, the officials vowed to continue fully coordinating and maintain high-level consultations on the ongoing policy review.
At a joint press conference after the talks, Blinken said Biden plans to complete the work “in the weeks ahead” while keeping “close coordination and consultation” with South Korea and Japan, among others.
The secretary also expressed hope that China can play a “critical role” in convincing North Korea to pursue denuclearization given its “unique relationship” with the North. He added it is also in the China’s interest to do so.
“Virtually all of North Korea’s economic relationships, its trade…go through China so it has tremendous influence, and I think it has a shared interest in making sure that we do something about North Korea’s nuclear program and about the increasingly dangerous ballistic missile program.”
On China’s behavior in the region, Blinken said the United States and South Korea are “clear-eyed about Beijing’s consistent failure to uphold its commitments,” adding that the officials discussed “how Beijing’s aggressive and authoritarian behavior are challenging the stability, security and prosperity of the Indo Pacific region.”
During his meeting with Chung on Wednesday, Blinken harshly criticized the North Korean government for committing abuses against its people. He also blasted China for eroding autonomy in Hong Kong, posturing over Taiwan and asserting maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Blinken and Austin’s first visit to South Korea as secretaries of state and defense comes after a CNN report that U.S. intelligence has assessed that North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since President Joe Biden took office in January.
It also comes just after North Korean media said Kim Yo Jong, leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister and close aide, had lambasted ongoing U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.
On Thursday, the U.S. and South Korean officials also signed a provisional cost-sharing agreement the two countries recently struck on U.S. troops stationed in the South.
The U.S. officials are also set to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae In later in the day.
Blinken and Austin’s trip to South Korea from Wednesday followed a three-day visit to Japan, where they and their Japanese counterparts reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea and urged Pyongyang to abide by its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The United States and South Korea last held a two-plus-two meeting over four years ago.