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(3rd LD) Blinken says 'authoritarian' N.K. regime continues to commit 'systemic and widespread' abuses

All News 20:02 March 17, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 5, 9-13)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday accused the "authoritarian" regime in North Korea of "systemic and widespread abuses" against its own people, underscoring Washington's commitment to improving the reclusive country's human rights situation.

Blinken made the remarks at the start of his first face-to-face talks with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in Seoul, stressing the U.S. will continue to work together with South Korea, Japan and other allies for the denuclearization of the North.

The top U.S. diplomat arrived here earlier in the day, hours after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived here following a three-day trip to Japan.

"The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systemic and widespread abuses against its own people," Blinken said. "We must stand for fundamental rights and freedoms and against those who oppress it.

His mention of the North's human rights raised uncertainty over the future course of the Joe Biden administration's diplomacy toward Pyongyang, which has responded sensitively to the issue.

Blinken reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the alliance, casting it as "unwavering," "ironclad" and "rooted in friendship and mutual trust and shared values."

"This alliance between us is a linchpin for peace security and prosperity not just for our two nations but for the Indo-Pacific region and indeed the world," he said.

"Secretary Austin and I are here to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the alliance and also to build on it. We want to achieve our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and for human rights, democracy and rule of law," he added.

The first Cabinet-level overseas trip since the Jan. 20 launch of the Biden administration highlighted its resolve to "reinvigorate and modernize" democratic alliances against shared challenges, such as a recalcitrant North Korea and an assertive China.

Blinken took a jab at Beijing, decrying its policy related to Hong Kong and other regions.

"China is using coercion and aggression to systematically erode the economy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Tibet and asserting claims in the South China Sea that violate human rights law," he said.

The secretary also used the meeting to express his condolences over the deaths of several women of Korean descent in this week's shootings in the U.S. city of Atlanta.

"I want to offer our deepest condolences for our families and friends for those who died, and everyone in the Korean community who was deeply shaken," he said. "We will stand up for our fellow American and Korean Americans to be safe."

Chung said that South Korea's alliance with the U.S. is the "foundation" of its diplomacy and the "linchpin" of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and across the world.

The minister also expressed hope that the partnership will develop in a "more sound, mutually beneficial and comprehensive" manner, and that Presidents Moon Jae-in and Joe Biden will engage in a summit in the near future to enhance bilateral ties.

The secretaries' visit, meant to underscore the U.S.' focus on rebuilding regional alliances, came just a day after Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, struck a jarring note, decrying an ongoing allied military exercise and warning the U.S. not to "cause a stink" if it wants to sleep in peace for the next four years.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on March 17, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

On Thursday, Chung and Blinken will join Defense Minister Suh Wook and Austin for the allies' first "two plus two meeting" since October 2016 -- a symbolic gathering to highlight the strength of the alliance.

Blinken is set to leave for Anchorage on Thursday to meet China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
(END)

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