U.S. Defense Secretary visits South Korea as region faces myriad challenges

Vastavam web: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will meet with senior South Korean leaders on Friday, amid a series of regional challenges ranging from tensions between Seoul and Tokyo to how much of the cost South Korea should pay for American troops stationed there. Esper, on his first international trip since being confirmed as defence secretary, arrived in South Korea on Thursday evening amid an escalating feud between Seoul and Tokyo, both U.S. allies.

If the issue comes up in his meetings in Seoul, Esper is likely to reiterate that the two countries should reduce tensions and focus on the challenges posed by North Korea and China. The accord, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), facilitates three-way intelligence gathering with Washington, which is crucial in fending off North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The deal is automatically renewed annually on Aug. 24.

Esper arrived in Seoul a day after President Donald Trump said South Korea agreed to “pay a lot more” to shoulder costs required for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea and that talks are under way to discuss the issue.

A spokeswoman at South Korea’s defence ministry said on Thursday that South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and Esper will discuss a number of issues, including the security situation on the Korean peninsula, coordinate policy to foster denuclearisation and lasting peace, and discuss key alliance issues.

On Tuesday, Esper said the United States would not overreact to the short-range missile launches by North Korea and would keep the door open to talks with Pyongyang. He also added that, despite complaints by North Korea, there was no plan to alter future joint military drills with Seoul.