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APAC

Blinken, Austin to visit Japan and South Korea this month: sources

TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plan to visit Japan and South Korea this month for foreign policy and security talks, three government sources with direct knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks about priorities for administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in the Ben Franklin room at the State Department in Washington, U.S. March 3, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

The visits will be the first to the Asian allies by the top U.S. foreign policy and defense officials since the Biden administration took office in January and reflect growing concerns about the challenge posed by a rising China and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Blinken and Austin will hold “2 plus 2” dialogues with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts, the sources told Reuters, declining to be identified because the information is not formally public.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said he was not able currently to confirm any reports about planned travel but said Washington has a deep commitment to the Indo-Pacific region.

“I think you’ll see us continue to demonstrate our commitment to the Indo-Pacific going forward,” he said.

The sources said the U.S. officials would be in Japan on March 17, while South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said discussions were underway for the two to visit Seoul for two days from March 17, although the exact schedule was still to be confirmed.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed the plan to visit Seoul.

The United States is looking to strengthen ties with key allies as China takes an increasingly aggressive foreign policy approach in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere in the world.

The Biden administration is also conducting a full review of its policy towards North Korea, something it says it is conducting together with South Korea and Japan.

In a 24-page document outlining President Joe Biden’s national security policies, the United States this week singled out China as “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”

Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim and David Brunnstrom; editing by John Stonestreet and Jane Wardell

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