|In this file photo, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J Blinken gives a joint press conference following a meeting with Foreign Affairs member of the anti-Islamic State coalition on June 2, 2015, in Paris. AFP|
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's pick for secretary of state will likely seek to improve South Korea's relations with Japan as he pushes for multilateral efforts to denuclearize North Korea, U.S. experts said Monday.
The U.S. president-elect selected Antony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state, to be the first Cabinet member of the Biden administration, set to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
While experts here noted the 58-year-old nominee will be open to dialogue with North Korea, he will likely prefer a more silenced and disciplined approach than President Donald Trump in dealing with U.S. allies and adversaries.
"Blinken will place his emphasis on revitalizing U.S. alliances and he won't kowtow to Kim Jong-un as Trump did ― or put the U.S. and North Korea on the brink of war as Trump also did in 2017," said Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who currently works for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Trump has held three meetings with North Korea's Kim, but U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks have stalled since the second Trump-Kim summit, held in Hanoi in February 2019, ended without a deal.
Biden remains critical of the Trump-Kim meetings, insisting they have only given the North Korean dictator what he had long desired ― global recognition as the leader of a nuclear-armed state.
The president-elect says he too may be willing to meet with Kim, but only if it will lead to a reduction of the communist state's nuclear arsenal.
Blinken, if confirmed, will reaffirm the Biden administration's willingness to talk, noted the former CIA official.
"I expect he will show an openness for talks with the North, but (he) will expect real deliverables, not just photo ops," said Terry.
Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security chair at the Hudson Institute, said North Korea will be placed high on the agenda of the incoming U.S. administration, but its approach to the communist state will be different from that of the Trump administration.
"North Korea will be an important issue, and I expect the Biden national security team, including Tony Blinken, to pursue a deliberate, detailed, diplomatic process to shore up international support from China and others," he said.
It may also continue to directly engage Kim, but with an "united front" with South Korea, noted Cronin.
Terry agreed the new Biden administration and its State Department will likely seek a multilateral approach toward North Korea.
Blinken "will also take a more multilateral approach to North Korea and other problems, trying to get U.S. allies in particular on the same page," she said.
To this end, Blinken will likely seek to strengthen the U.S.' alliances with South Korea and Japan, but also improve relations between its two Asian allies, she noted.
"He will also care about improving US-Japan-South Korea trilateral relations," said Terry. "When he was deputy secretary of state, he worked hard to drive the relationship forward by initiating quarterly trilateral meetings and insisting on concrete results."
"I do think he will make sure the U.S. government will be focused on Korea-Japan relations and alliance management," she added.
The Seoul-Tokyo relations hit their lowest ebb soon after Japan imposed restrictions on South Korea-bound exports of three items used to produce semiconductors and display panels, both key export items of South Korea, in July 2019.
Japan also later removed South Korea from its list of preferred trade partners, a move widely believed to be aimed at retaliating against a Seoul court ruling that ordered a number of Japanese firms to pay compensation to Korean workers forced into free labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.
The Trump administration had refused to get in the middle, saying the issue should be settled by the two countries alone.
Blinken's nomination as new secretary of state also highlights Biden's emphasis on U.S. alliances, the experts noted.
"Tony Blinken seeks to preserve and adapt the existing liberal, rules-based system through both effective multilateral institutions and strong allies around the globe," Cronin said.
To South Korea, it will mean a return to more normal ways, he insisted.
"Koreans should see him as a return to a more traditional, internationally active but less confrontational brand of foreign policy," said Cronin.
Seoul and Washington have so far failed to reach a deal in their defense cost-sharing negotiations that began late last year.
South Korea has offered to increase its burden-sharing by up to 13 percent from the US$870 million it paid under last year's agreement, but the U.S. is said to be demanding a 50 percent hike to $1.3 billion a year.
In a special op-ed piece, published exclusively by Yonhap News Agency on Oct. 29, Biden said he would not seek to "extort" South Korea.
"As President, I'll stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond, rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops," he had said.
Cronin said, "Blinken will wish to resolve alliance differences in a quieter and more congenial fashion than has been the style under Secretary (Mike) Pompeo." (Yonhap)