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Moon vows to improve ties with Japan during meeting with Biden's key officials

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President Moon Jae-in poses with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during their courtesy visit at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in poses with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during their courtesy visit at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday. Yonhap

By Do Je-hae

President Moon Jae-in has said he will seek to improve ties with Japan in order to revive South Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation that the Joe Biden government sees as critical in promoting regional stability, during a meeting with core members of the new U.S. administration.

Moon had his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday, and discussed key issues regarding the alliance and North Korea. Ahead of their visit to the presidential office, the two U.S. secretaries held talks with their Korean counterparts ― Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook ― and announced a joint statement with the focus on strengthening the alliance.

"President Moon said he will continue to make efforts to restore bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan as they are very important for peace, stability and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia as well as for the solid foundation for South Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation," presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said in a briefing after the 50-minute meeting. "The U.S. side evaluated our government's willingness and efforts to improve Korea-Japan relations, and said that the U.S. side also expects progress."

Moon also underlined the need for a common strategy on the Korean Peninsula issue. "President Moon evaluated the frequent consultations and communication between South Korea and the U.S. for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establish lasting peace, and stressed the need for Seoul and Washington to come up with a joint comprehensive strategy for North Korea. The U.S. side also said it would continue to communicate closely with its ally South Korea in an open manner during the process of reviewing its North Korea policy," Kang said.

Other key topics included China and Myanmar. "Regarding China, the U.S. side said there is a mix of hostile, cooperative, and competitive relationships, and hoped to overcome challenges in close consultation with South Korea in the future.

The meeting also underlined the need for building a stronger alliance.

"Following yesterday's ministerial meeting, two-plus-two talks were held today for the first time in five years and we signed a defense cost-sharing agreement, which is significant in that the Biden administration has laid a strong foundation for the South Korea-U.S. alliance to develop more stably," Moon said at the start of the meeting.

"The people of both countries will also feel confident that the South Korea-U.S. alliance is being strengthened as a key pillar of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. We appreciate the hard work of the two ministers and ask them to continue communicating with our ministers and cooperating closely."

Cheong Wa Dae had high hopes for the visit, underlining it as an opportunity to coordinate a strategy on North Korea. In the final year of his presidency, Moon is seeking a breakthrough to resuscitate his peace process on the Korean Peninsula. During his New Year press conference, Moon encouraged the U.S. to keep alive the 2018 Singapore Agreement reached between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with the hope of restarting U.S.-North Korea dialogue.

"With regard to North Korea, the new U.S. administration is undertaking a policy review, and has consulted closely with Seoul in this process," a senior presidential aide said. "From the beginning of the policy review, the U.S. has sought our opinions and we have delivered our positions on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue to the U.S. side. As such, I believe the policy review will reflect the outcomes of our consultations."

The visit of the two ministers to Korea came on the heels of the conclusion of a bilateral agreement to increase Korea's share of costs for maintaining U.S. troops here. The stalled talks during the previous Trump administration had raised concerns about a weakening of the alliance.

Cheong Wa Dae explained that the trip to Korea by the two U.S. ministers, their first overseas trip since the launch of the new administration, is a testament to the strength of the alliance and the importance Washington has assigned to Korea in its diplomatic strategy.

Moon and Biden spoke on the phone Feb. 4 for the first time since Biden took office in January. They discussed key issues in the alliance and cooperation, regional and global challenges and North Korea. They also discussed the need for a face-to-face meeting. The two leaders are expected to meet for the first time at the G7 event hosted by the U.K. in June.

Do Je-hae


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