- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 24, 2021

Newly installed Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin spoke by phone over the weekend with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan, longtime allies who will be key to the U.S. path ahead in dealing with China and North Korea.

A Pentagon readout of the calls said Mr. Austin underscored the U.S. commitment to defend both countries, in particular restating the longstanding U.S. commitment to defend Japan in its dispute with China over the contested Senkaku Islands and to oppose “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea.”

Beijing late last week passed a law empowering its coast guard to take armed action when China’s sovereignty is threatened by “foreign organizations or individuals at sea” — which the state-controlled press described as a measure to strengthen Chinese claims to the strategically located island chain.

Japan’s Defense Ministry said Mr. Austin and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi discussed the importance of the bilateral alliance to “the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific region” — a term favored by the Trump administration to define the ring of U.S.-East Asian alliances designed to contain Chinese aggression.

Relations with Seoul and Tokyo faced strains over the last four years as the Trump administration pushed for both allies to bear a greater financial share of the joint defense burden. Talks on new cost-sharing deals with both countries were left unfinished as President Biden took office.

Mr. Kishi told Japanese reporters Saturday it was “vital” for Washington and Tokyo to quickly renegotiate a new cost-sharing deal for American troops based in Japan before the current deal expires in March.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said that Sunday’s call came at Mr. Austin’s request.

Neither the U.S. nor the South Korean statement referred to the stalled coast-sharing talks or U.S. troop levels in South Korea.

Mr. Austin “underscored the U.S. commitment to defend [South Korea through both the U.S.-[South Korea]  combined defense posture and the U.S. extended deterrent,” the Pentagon said in a readout of the call.

The South Korea Defense Ministry said the two men had agreed to meet in person “in the near future” to hold more intensive talks.

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