|Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, left, speaks during his meeting with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Tokyo, Tuesday, ahead of a state funeral for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. AFP-Yonhap|
PM Han expresses concerns over Inflation Reduction Act
By Jung Min-ho
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which divides the rival Koreas, on Thursday in Washington's latest bid to demonstrate its commitment to Seoul's security.
This would mark the first visit to the border barrier by a top Biden administration official at a time when tensions are mounting as a result of a series of recent North Korean provocations, including a short-range ballistic missile test on Sunday.
Harris, who held a meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida before attending a state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, will make a one-day visit to Seoul, where she is scheduled to meet with President Yoon Suk-yeol and top diplomats to discuss urgent issues between the two countries.
During a meeting with Harris at the Okura Tokyo Hotel, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said that her DMZ visit would be "symbolic" for the two countries' alliance and joint effort for peace.
"The South Korean government and the people are excited to welcome you," Han said. "The two countries have worked together to protect shared values such as human rights and free trade."
Han and Harris shared their concern about North Korea's evolving nuclear threat and agreed to respond decisively together to any further provocations by the regime.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the DMZ last month, and former President Donald Trump went there in 2019 when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Harris' visit is expected to trigger an aggressive reaction from Pyongyang, which denounced Pelosi as "the worst destroyer" of peace after her visit.
After South Korea and the U.S. began their largest combined naval exercise in five years on Monday, North Korean U.N. Ambassador Kim Song warned and described it as an "extremely dangerous act" that could plunge the Korean Peninsula into war, during the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The drills were announced earlier this month after North Korea had passed a law enshrining the right to use preemptive nuclear strikes to protect its regime.
Harris called the U.S. alliance with South Korea "the linchpin of security and prosperity" in the Asia-Pacific region and told Han that her country will "stand with you in the face of threats."
The Inflation Reduction Act and the global comprehensive strategic alliance, a diplomatic concept that highlights shared values of democracy and rule of law, were among the other issues high on the agenda.
The U.S. act, abbreviated as IRA, was passed last month and gives tax credits to buyers of electric vehicles from next January ― if a minimum of 40 percent of the critical minerals in their batteries are mined or processed in the U.S. or countries that signed free trade deals in the U.S. or were recycled in North America. At least 50 percent of the battery components must also be manufactured or assembled in North America. Naturally, the law is causing significant concern for South Korean automakers.
Han asked Harris to ensure that the Biden administration pays particular attention to this issue. In response, she pledged to continue to consult as the law is implemented.
|Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, right, waits to lay flowers at the altar during the state funeral for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Tuesday. AP-Yonhap|
Han and Harris also discussed ways to strengthen the economic partnership, particularly on advanced technology and semiconductors and through space cooperation.
South Korea's relations with Japan, which have soured in recent years due to historical issues, were not mentioned directly at the meeting. But in a statement, the White House expressed support for the possible reconciliation, underscoring the potential benefits of stronger trilateral cooperation.
After the meeting, Han paid his respects at the funeral of Abe, who was assassinated in July while campaigning during an election. About 700 overseas dignitaries, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attended the ceremony.
Later in the day, Han attended a reception dinner hosted by Kishida at the state guest house and expressed deep condolences on behalf of the South Korean government, the prime minister's office said.
|Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, right, and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands before a reception dinner at the Asakasa State Guest House in Tokyo, Tuesday, after the state funeral for Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Reuters-Yonhap|