Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker of the House, met with South Korean political leaders in Seoul on Thursday, before visiting the demilitarized zone on the border with North Korea one day after a controversial visit to Taiwan raised China's ire.
In Seoul, Pelosi avoided commenting on relations across the Strait of Taiwan, which could have further increased tensions as China commences live fire drills following her trip to Taipei. She is the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, a visit that angered Beijing greatly.
There are currently 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, a key US ally.
Pelosi flew to Japan late Thursday, the last leg of her tour which also included Malaysia and Singapore.
What is Pelosi doing while in Seoul?
In Seoul, Pelosi met South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo along with other senior members of Parliament.
Following that meeting, Pelosi spoke of the alliance between Seoul and Washington stretching back to the 1950-53 Korean War. She also addressed legislative efforts to strengthen ties but did not comment on her visit to Taiwan nor the Chinese responses.
At a joint news conference beside Kim, Pelosi said, "We also come to say to you that a friendship, a relationship that began from urgency and security, many years ago, has become the warmest of friendships."
Kim said Pelosi shared South Korea's concerns about increasing nuclear threats from North Korea. Both support their government's efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through deterrence and diplomacy, he said.
Neither speaker took questions following the press conference.
The US House speaker also spoke with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol by phone as the president is on holiday this week. Yoon took office in May and has promised to boost military ties to the US and take a tougher line on North Korea.
South Korean media has treated Yoon's inability to meet with Pelosi in person as a snub and been critical of the fact that he did not send a delegation to the airport to greet her. He was also photographed attending a play in Seoul the night Pelosi landed.
Pelosi visits demilitarized zone
Pelosi later met with US soldiers at an inter-Korean border area jointly controlled by the American-led UN Command and the North Koreans known as the Joint Security Area (JSA), part of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
"We conveyed the gratitude of the Congress and the Country for the patriotic service of our servicemembers, who stand as sentinels of Democracy on the Korean Peninsula," she said in a tweet.
She is the most senior US official to visit to the village of Panmunjom since former President Donald Trump visited in 2019 to meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un.
The location has been the site of both bloodshed and diplomacy. Located inside the 4-kilometer-wide (2.5-mile) demilitarized zone, along the border between the two Koreas, it was created at the end of the Korean War.
President Yoon called the visit to the DMZ "a sign of strong deterrence between South Korea and the US against North Korea."
Following Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, China's Foreign Ministry said, "The current situation clearly shows the impudent interference of the US in internal affairs of other countries." Critical comments on North Korea in South Korea could also irk China, if to nothing like the same degree.
South Korea is to restart large scale joint military field exercises with the US later this month after they were scaled down by the previous US and South Korean administrations amid diplomatic overtures to Pyongyang.
ab, ar/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)