Published: 2017-04-16 16:47
Updated: 2017-04-16 16:47
US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea on Sunday for a high-stakes three-day visit to reaffirm the robust security alliance and warn against North Korea's possible provocations, Seoul officials said.
After touching down at a US air base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, Pence headed to a Seoul national cemetery in a symbolic gesture to highlight the alliance forged during the 1950-53 Korean War.
His visit to South Korea, his first Asian trip since his inauguration in Jaunary, came amid rising tensions here. Pyongyang has been seen preparing for another nuclear test while Washington has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against the wayward regime.
Before his arrival, the communist state further ramped up its saber-rattling by displaying three intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade Saturday and launching a missile early Sunday, which ended in failure.
On Monday, Pence, the highest-ranking official of the Donald Trump administration to visit Seoul, was scheduled to meet South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun.
During his meeting with Hwang, the two sides are expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in pressuring Pyongyang into changing tack toward denuclearization through sanctions and diplomacy, observers said.
Pence is also likely to explain to Hwang the Trump administration's North Korea policy. The Associated Press has reported, citing unidentified US officials, that Washington would focus on "maximum pressure and engagement" to induce the North to denuclearize.
Other issues likely to be discussed include the ongoing installation of an advanced US missile defense system on the peninsula. The two sides may reaffirm the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and call on Beijing to stop its economic retaliation against South Korean businesses, observers said.
Following their talks, Hwang and Pence will release a statement, which is expected to warn the North against provocations and highlight the unwavering alliance.
On Tuesday, Pence was set to deliver a speech at a meeting hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.
In recent months, a series of top US officials have visited South Korea amid concerns that security cooperation between the allies could slacken in the wake of the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Seoul in February and March, respectively, to highlight that Washington's commitment to the defense of South Korea will remain "ironclad."
Pence will depart for Japan on Tuesday. His trip will also take him to Indonesia and Australia. (Yonhap)