U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Friday as the first major schedule of his trip to South Korea, the foreign ministry said Thursday, in an apparent bid to demonstrate a strong alliance between the two countries against North Korea.
Tillerson is to come to South Korea early Friday after staying in Japan as part of his three-country trip to Asia that will also take him to China on Saturday.Upon arriving in Korea, he is to head to the DMZ along the inter-Korean border, the ministry said. The two Koreas technically remain at war since the 1950-53 hostilities ended in a truce.
During his two-day stay, Tillerson will meet with Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who took over in December after then-President Park Geun-hye was impeached by parliament.
He also plans to hold a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to discuss pending regional and global issues, the ministry said.
Tillerson's visit is timed with mounting anxiety over the North's additional provocations, along with the deepening friction between South Korea and China over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
China has been stepping up its retaliation against South Korea, mostly in the business sector, as Seoul and Washington are going ahead with their plan to install a THAAD battery on the peninsula to better counter threats from the North.
Beijing has objected to the plan, saying its powerful radar system will hurt its strategic security interests.
The Yun-Tillerson meeting, their second face-to-face talks since the secretary took office, is expected to focus on the North's nuclear and missile threats, along with the diplomatic spat over THAAD. The two will hold a joint press conference before going into the talks, the ministry said.
The remarks of the former Exxon Mobil executive will be closely scrutinized for any hints at how the U.S. government under President Donald Trump would deal with the North given that Washington is in the final stages of its policy review on Pyongyang.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck told a regular press briefing on Thursday that the meeting of the two top diplomats is "timely" and "meaningful" for both to reaffirm their "ironclad" alliance and explore a coordinated approach to deal with the North.
"The talks will (also) help advance the bilateral consultations that have been underway and lay a good foundation for continued high-level coordination between South Korea and the U.S. going forward," Cho told reporters.
Earlier, a ministry official said that the forthcoming meeting between Yun and Tillerson will provide South Korea with a "chance" to share its experiences on North Korea and its nuclear threats with the fledgling Donald Trump administration.
"With a policy review on North Korea under way in Washington, (Tillerson's visit) will give us a good opportunity to share our diverse experiences on the North that we have accumulated for decades and provide our input," he said on condition of anonymity.