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(LEAD) Austin hails 'bold' steps to improve Seoul-Tokyo ties, progress in trilateral efforts against N.K. threats

Defense 11:52 June 03, 2023

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, 2nd para, UPDATES throughout with more remarks)
By Chae Yun-hwan

SINGAPORE, June 3 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday praised "bold" steps by South Korea and Japan to improve their relations and touted "tremendous" progress in their trilateral cooperation with Washington against growing North Korean military threats.

He made the remarks during a session of the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum in Singapore, as warming ties between Seoul and Tokyo -- long strained over wartime history -- have added new momentum to America's push for stronger security cooperation with its core Asian allies.

"I also salute the bold steps taken by Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) to work more closely together," Austin said, referring to South Korea by its official name.

"Strong ties between Tokyo and Seoul are good for both countries and for the region," he said. "We made tremendous progress in our own trilateral cooperation with Japan and the ROK, including more regular military exercises and greater information sharing."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during the opening plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Sinagpore on June 3, 2023. (Yonhap)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during the opening plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Sinagpore on June 3, 2023. (Yonhap)

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo had been frayed due to historical rows from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea. But they took a turn for the better following South Korea's decision in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor on its own without contributions from Japanese firms.

Austin also noted that Washington is "deepening" extended deterrence for South Korea, referring to Washington's stated commitment to using the full range of military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally.

"As North Korea continues its nuclear threats and missile tests and other dangerous provocations, we're deepening our extended deterrence with our allies in the Republic of Korea," he said. "That includes increased deployments of our most advanced assets."

During the session, Austin also stressed the need for dialogue between Washington and Beijing after his Chinese counterpart declined to hold bilateral talks on the margins of the Singapore forum.

"The United States believes that open lines of communication with the People's Republic of China are essential," he said. "For responsible defense leaders, the right time to talk is anytime. The right time to talk is every time. The right time to talk is now."

Austin reiterated Washington's efforts to maintain a "free and open" Indo-Pacific with countries in the region and said his country will not permit "coercion" or "bullying."

"We will support our allies and partners as they defend themselves against coercion and bullying," he said. "To be clear, we do not seek conflict or confrontation, but we will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion."

Commenting on the Taiwan issue, the Pentagon chief stressed the U.S.' commitment to "preserving the status quo."

"You know the whole world has a stake in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait ... the security of commercial shipping lanes and global supply chains depends on it, so does freedom of navigation worldwide," he said.

He went on to say: "Make no mistake. Conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating. So we are determined to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Austin is set to meet with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Lee Jong-sup and Yasukazu Hamada, respectively, later in the day to flesh out a three-way system to share North Korean missile warning data in real time, as agreed upon by their leaders in a trilateral summit last November.

He is also expected to have a brief "pull-aside" meeting with Lee in the day.


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