Kamala Harris wraps up her Asia trip with a stop in the DMZ between the Koreas

Vice President Kamala Harris concluded her four-day trip to Asia with a stop on Thursday at the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean Peninsula as she underlined the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its allies. Asians in the face of an increasingly hostile North Korea.

The visit follows North Korea’s latest missile launches and amid fears the country could conduct a nuclear test. Visiting the DMZ has become something of a ritual for US leaders hoping to show their determination to stand firm against aggression.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before leaving Washington on Sunday. The launches are contributing to a record level of missile testing this year that aims to bring Pyongyang one step closer to recognition as a full-fledged nuclear power.

At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras. She watched through bulky binoculars as a South Korean colonel pointed to military installations on the south side. Then an American colonel pointed out some of the defenses along the military demarcation line, including a fence topped with barbed wire and clay mines. He said American soldiers regularly patrol along a path.

“It’s so close,” Harris said.

Harris then visited one of the rows of blue buildings that straddle the demarcation line, where a US officer explained how the buildings are still used to conduct negotiations with North Korea. Sometimes they message each other, and sometimes they use a megaphone, he said.

“It’s high tech,” Harris joked, before adding, “We made history.”

“It goes on,” said the Colonel.

Harris agreed. “The past and the present happen every day.”

She then exited the building and walked towards the demarcation line. On the North Korean side, two figures dressed in what appeared to be hazmat suits peeked out from behind a curtain in a second story window. Then they disappeared inside.

Harris described the North Korean missile launches as provocations intended to “destabilize the region” and said the United States and South Korea remained committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the North.

“I cannot say enough that the commitment of the United States to the defense of the Republic of Korea is ironclad,” she said.

“In the South, we see a thriving democracy. In the North we see a brutal dictatorship,” she said before flying off from the border in a US military helicopter.

Earlier, Harris met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at his office in Seoul, where they condemned North Korea’s increased weapons testing and reaffirmed the US commitment to defending the South with a full range of its military capabilities in the event of war, Yoon’s office told.

They expressed concern over threats of nuclear conflict from North Korea and pledged an unspecified stronger response to major North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test, which South Korean officials say could eventually have take place in the coming months.

Harris and Yoon were also expected to discuss expanding economic and technological partnerships and mending recently strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo to bolster their trilateral cooperation with Washington in the region.

Yoon tweeted that he had a “very productive discussion” with Harris about strengthening their bilateral alliance.

Harris’ trip was arranged so she could attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but her itinerary was dominated by security concerns, reflecting fears over China’s growing power and the intensification of North Korea’s testing activities.

At each meeting, Harris tried to dispel any fears that the United States was faltering in its commitment to protecting its allies, describing partnerships with South Korea and Japan as the “kingpin” and “cornerstone” of its defense strategy in Asia.

Yoon, who took office earlier this year, had anchored his election campaign by pledging to deepen Seoul’s economic and security partnership with Washington to address challenges posed by the North Korean threat and address potential risks of the supply chain caused by the pandemic, the United States and China. Russia’s rivalry and war against Ukraine. But the alliance has been marred by tensions lately.

South Koreans have expressed a sense of betrayal over a new law signed by President Biden that bars electric cars built outside of North America from being eligible for US government subsidies, undermining the competitiveness of automakers like Seoul-based Hyundai.

During their meeting, Harris told Yoon that the Biden administration would continue to consult with Seoul and try to address South Korean concerns when implementing the law, Yoon’s office said.

Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korean studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the dispute over electric vehicles has quickly become a storm that US officials cannot ignore, although there may not be a simple solution.

“It takes on a level of urgency that makes it a political issue that requires management,” Snyder said. “I don’t know if it will be easy for the Biden administration to do that.”

After meeting Yoon, Harris hosted a roundtable with women leaders from business, media, culture and sport on gender equity issues.

Yoon has been criticized for the lack of female representation in government and her downplaying of wider inequalities. He claimed during his campaign that South Korea no longer had structural barriers to women’s success, which experts said ignored the large gender pay gaps and underrepresentation of women in the workforce. boards and politics.

“If we want to strengthen democracy, we have to pay attention to gender equity,” said Harris, who acknowledged raising the issue with Yoon. Yoon’s office did not immediately confirm these conversations.

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