South Korean President Park Geun Hye, seen by some as leaning too close to a rising China, will arrive in Washington today for a fourth summit with United States President Barack Obama in a trip to reaffirm a strong US-South Korea alliance.
The two leaders are expected to address issues of peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and North-east Asia, just days after North Korea flexed its military muscle in a massive parade to mark the 70th anniversary of its ruling party. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proclaimed that his country was ready to fight any war started by the US.
Seoul officials said Ms Park and Mr Obama will meet on Friday to discuss responses to future provocations by Pyongyang and the resumption of denuclearisation talks stalled since 2008. Ms Park is expected to persuade Mr Obama to engage more with North Korea and restart a dialogue with the reclusive state.
Ms Park's four-day trip - postponed from June because of the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in South Korea - will include her first visit to the Pentagon. It is the latest in a series of state visits by Asian leaders such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ms Park's summit with Mr Obama is widely considered a watershed as it is expected to influence South Korea-China relations, according to local reports.
The South Korean media has called on Ms Park to explain the logic of her China strategy and reassure the US that their alliance will not be weakened, despite Seoul's increasingly friendly ties with Beijing. South Korea has joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Ms Park attended China's huge military parade last month despite US concerns.
International relations professor Lee Jung Hoon from Yonsei University said South Korea is caught in a tug of war, with "China pulling much more than the US" to draw South Korea closer, but the US-South Korea alliance remains unwavering.
Dr Lim Tai Wei, a SIM University senior lecturer who specialises in East Asia, said: "The main focus of Ms Park's visit is still a very overt display and reiteration of the close alliance between the two countries."
While in the US, Ms Park will also visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Centre to explore aerospace collaboration opportunities, attend a forum on the technology industry, and meet economic leaders. She will be accompanied by a business delegation from 164 companies, including Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and SK Group.
Tomorrow, she will visit the Pentagon and meet US Vice-President Joe Biden over lunch to discuss how to boost regional and global cooperation. Other issues to be addressed during the trip include climate change and global health security, officials said.