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US, SKorea to Bolster Alliance at Talks12/01 06:07

   U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in South Korea on Wednesday for 
annual security talks expected to bolster the countries' decades-long military 
alliance in the face of North Korean nuclear threats and mounting challenges 
from China.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in 
South Korea on Wednesday for annual security talks expected to bolster the 
countries' decades-long military alliance in the face of North Korean nuclear 
threats and mounting challenges from China.

   The U.S.-South Korea alliance "is the linchpin of peace and security in this 
region," Austin tweeted after landing.

   But how substantially the alliance, sealed in the bloodshed of the 1950-53 
Korean War, can be solidified is in doubt as South Korea remains locked in 
thorny historical disputes with Japan -- another key American regional ally -- 
and hesitates to actively join U.S.-led efforts to curb China's rising strength.

   "The alliance faces some obstacles. It's not desirable for the South 
Korea-Japan history issue and other problems to work as obstacles" in South 
Korea's national security, said Moon Seong Mook, a retired South Korean army 
general and analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

   The meeting Thursday between Austin and his South Korean counterpart, Suh 
Wook, comes after the Pentagon released the results of a global posture review 
earlier this week. The review directs additional cooperation with allies and 
partners to deter "potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North 
Korea," while informing Austin's approval of the permanent stationing of a 
previously rotational attack helicopter squadron and artillery division 
headquarters in South Korea.

   Boo Seung-Chan, a spokesman at South Korea's Defense Ministry, said Tuesday 
the U.S. decision to permanently deploy the helicopter and artillery units was 
proof that both countries highly value their alliance.

   Some experts said the alliance was at risk in recent years as then-President 
Donald Trump threatened to withdraw the 28,500 American troops stationed in 
South Korea if Seoul failed to drastically increase its financial support for 
them, and repeatedly complained of the cost of regular military drills with 
South Korea.

   After his landmark first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 
2018, Trump baffled many by unilaterally announcing the suspension of major 
summertime military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, calling them "very 
provocative" and "tremendously expensive."

   But such worries have gradually eased since Trump's successor, Joe Biden, 
said he would restore Washington's alliances throughout the world.

   In Thursday's meeting, the allies are expected to announce a strengthening 
of their ties and the U.S. security commitment to South Korea, Moon said. 
Although such announcements aren't something new, Moon said it would still 
"discomfort North Korea, which basically aims to drive a wedge between South 
Korea and the U.S." amid stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

   South Korea has been struggling to strike a balance between the U.S., its 
most important security ally, and China, its biggest trading partner. South 
Korea suffered economic retaliation from China after allowing the U.S. to 
install a missile defense system in its territory in 2017 which Beijing views 
as a security threat.

   "Washington is also looking for Seoul to do more beyond the (Korean) 
peninsula, which would involve trilateral cooperation with Japan despite 
tensions over history, and contributing to Asia's maritime security despite 
objections from China," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Seoul's Ewha 
University.

 
 
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