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BORDERLINE United States Vice President Kamala Harris (second from right) is given a tour by an unnamed American army officer near the demarcation line at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea in Panmunjom on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. AFP PHOTO
PANMUNJOM, Korea: United States Vice President Kamala Harris capped her four-day trip to Asia on Thursday with a stop at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the Korean Peninsula as she emphasized her country’s commitment to the security of its Asian allies in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
The visit comes on the heels of Pyongyang’s latest missile launches and amid fears the country may conduct a nuclear test. Visiting the DMZ has become something of a ritual for American leaders hoping to show their resolve to stand firm against aggression.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before she left Washington on Sunday. The launches add to an already record number of missile testing this year that is intended to move Pyongyang closer to being acknowledged as a full-fledged nuclear power.
Earlier, Harris met with South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol at his office in the capital Seoul, where they condemned the North’s intensifying weapons tests and reaffirmed the US’ commitment to defend the South with a full range of its military capabilities in the event of war. , Yoon’s office said.
They expressed concern over Pyongyang’s threats of nuclear conflict and pledged an unspecified stronger response to major North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test, which South Korean officials say could possibly take place in the coming months.
Harris and Yoon were also expected to discuss expanding economic and technology partnerships and repairing recently strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen their trilateral cooperation with Washington in the region.
Harris’ trip was organized so she could attend the state funeral of assassinated former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, but her itinerary was dominated by security concerns, reflecting fears about China’s growing power and North Korea’s ramped-up testing.
In every meeting, Harris tried to lay to rest any fear that Washington was wavering in its commitment to protecting its allies, describing American partnerships with South Korea and Japan as the “linchpin” and “cornerstone” of its defense strategy in Asia.
Yoon, who took office in May, had anchored his election campaign with vows to deepen Seoul’s economic and security partnership with the US to navigate challenges posed by the North Korean threat and address potential supply chain risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the US-China rivalry and Russia’s war on Ukraine. But the alliance has been marked by tension recently.
South Koreans have expressed a sense of betrayal over a new law signed by US President Joe Biden that prevents electric cars built outside of North America from being eligible for American government subsidies, undermining the competitiveness of automobile makers like Seoul-based Hyundai.
During their meeting, Harris told Yoon that the Biden administration would continue to consult with Seoul and try to address South Korean concerns as the law is implemented, Yoon’s office said.
After meeting Yoon, Harris, the first woman to serve as US vice president, held a roundtable with female leaders in business, media, culture and sports on gender equity issues.
Yoon has faced criticism for the lack of female representation in government and his downplaying of broader inequalities. He claimed during his campaign that South Korea no longer has any structural barrier to women’s success, which experts say ignored the East Asian country’s large gender pay gaps and the underrepresentation of women in corporate board rooms and politics.
“If we want to strengthen democracy, we must pay attention to gender equity,” said Harris, who acknowledged that she raised the issue with Yoon. His office did not immediately confirm such conversations.
As they did at her meetings in Japan, however, regional security issues dominated the final day of Harris’ trip.
There are indications that North Korea may increase its weapons demonstrations soon as it refines its missiles and delivery systems and attempts to pressure Washington to accept the North as a nuclear power. South Korean officials said last week that they detected signs that Pyongyang was preparing to test a ballistic missile system designed to be fired from submarines.
The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was to train with South Korean and Japanese warships in waters near the Korean Peninsula on Friday in the countries’ first trilateral anti-submarine exercises since 2017 to counter North Korean submarine threats, South Korea’s navy said on Thursday.