US Defense Secretary Mark Esper will depart on Wednesday for South Korea and other Asian countries to increase defense cooperation amid China's growing influence in the region, according to the Pentagon.
Esper's trip to Seoul comes before the end of a military intelligence sharing pact between South Korea and Japan at the end of the month, as the two countries still disagree with wartime compensation and other issues.
"I can practically guarantee that it will be part of our talks when we are in Korea," said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, while indicating that Esper is likely to urge South Korea to revisit its choice not to renew the UN General Security Agreement. Military Information or GSOMIA.
"This is something we would like to have resolved so that we can all focus on the region's biggest threats, which are North Korea's activities and then Chinese efforts to destabilize the region," he added.
GSOMIA has allowed Japan and South Korea - which have no military alliance between them but are allies of the United States - to directly share sensitive information, such as information about North Korea's military activities related to its nuclear and missile programs. .
But South Korea said in August it has decided to abandon the deal, which will be invalidated on November 23.
According to the US Department of Defense, Esper will also travel to Thailand to attend a regional meeting of defense ministers involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He will also travel to the Philippines and Vietnam.
China's militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and “predatory” Chinese trade and economic activities are among the shared challenges to be discussed during the meetings, Hoffman said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed plans for the US military to conduct joint flying exercises with the South Korean forces, but noted a “reduced scope” compared to previous similar exercises, so as not to undermine diplomatic efforts to denuclearize Korea. From north.
Following his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June last year, US President Donald Trump announced that he would suspend some joint military exercises with South Korea during the Washington talks with Pyongyang.
Subsequently, the United States and South Korea suspended the Ulchi Freedom Guard exercise, held every August, and the Vigilant Ace air defense exercises, last held in December 2017.
In the coming exercises Rear Admiral William Byrne, who attended the press conference with Hoffman, said: “I will not talk about specific numbers of forces (or) specific numbers of aircraft, but it is a narrow scope of previous Ace Vigilant exercises. . . “
"But it meets all the requirements of the US Air Force, the US Air Force to ensure availability," he added, referring to South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.