US vice-president to visit Korea’s DMZ after North's missile test

US Vice President Kamala Harris holds a bilateral meeting with South Korea's Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in Tokyo, on Sept 27, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO – United States Vice-President Kamala Harris will visit the demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on Thursday in a bid to show Washington’s commitment to the South’s security, according to US and South Korean officials.

The visit comes days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile towards the sea and amid fears of a possible nuclear test as the Biden administration’s attempts at outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fails.

Ms Harris’ visit was announced by South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo on Tuesday in Tokyo and was later confirmed by an American official.

Ms Harris is in Asia to lead a presidential delegation to the funeral of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

“Nearly 70 years since the Korean Armistice, the visit will underscore the strength” of the “alliance” between Seoul and Washington “in the face of any threats posed” by North Korea, the US official said.  The official asked not to be named discussing a trip that Ms Harris has not officially announced.

Ms Harris is scheduled to tour the DMZ, meet with service members, receive an operational briefing from US commanders, reflect on the shared sacrifice of American and South Korean soldiers and reaffirm the “ironclad” commitment to South Korean security, the official added.

“Your visit to the DMZ and Seoul will be very symbolic demonstrations of your strong commitments to security and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr Han told Ms Harris in Tokyo.

Many foreign dignitaries visiting the region make a trip to the heavily fortified DMZ. Several former US presidents, and Mr Joe Biden himself before he became president, have been there.

But former president Donald Trump became the first to have met a North Korean leader there when he held a third meeting with Mr Kim in June 2019 as part of his unsuccessful effort to persuade Mr Kim to give up his nuclear and missile programmes.

The DMZ is often described as the world’s last Cold War frontier and has existed since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Ms Harris' trip to Asia comes days after Chinese officials were roiled by an explicit pledge by Mr Biden to defend the Chinese-claimed Taiwan.

In her meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday, Ms Harris reaffirmed the US’ commitment to Japan's defence.

"They discussed the People's Republic of China's recent aggressive and irresponsible provocations in the Taiwan Strait, and reaffirmed the importance of preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the White House said in a statement.

China sees Taiwan as one of its provinces. Beijing has long vowed to peacefully reunify Taiwan but has not ruled out the use of force to do so.

Taiwan’s democratic government strongly objects to China’s sovereignty claims and says only the island’s 23 million people can decide its future.

While in Seoul, Ms Harris is also expected to seek ways to address South Korea's concerns over a law the US recently passed to tackle inflation, as well as new rules on electric vehicle subsidies that cut the tax perks enjoyed by Korean automakers in the US. REUTERS

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