SEOUL: US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Saturday Washington and its Asia allies would “stand up” for stability across the Taiwan Strait, and reiterated their commitment to freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea.

His comments came during a joint briefing with his Tokyo and Seoul counterparts, after a trilateral meeting in South Korea. Late last month the top diplomats of South Korea, Japan and China — North Korea’s key ally and Washington’s rival — reaffirmed the need to hold a trilateral summit at the “earliest” possible time.

The United States and its Western allies have increased “freedom of navigation” crossings by naval vessels in both the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, to reinforce that both are international waterways, angering Beijing.

“We will continue to stand up for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and freedom of navigation in the east and South China Seas,” Sullivan told reporters in Seoul, alongside South Korea’s Cho Tae-yong and Japan’s Takeo Akiba.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has moved to strengthen ties between Seoul and long-standing ally Washington to counter rising threats from nuclear-armed North Korea. He has also sought to resolve differences with Japan, another close US ally and Seoul’s former colonial ruler.

In August, the three allies said a “new chapter” of close three-way security cooperation was beginning after a historic summit at Camp David in the United States.

Beijing had lodged complaints over a statement released at the summit at the time, in which the three nations criticised China’s “aggressive behaviour” in the South China Sea, which it claims most of.

China also claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, vowing to seize it one day, and officials in Washington — Taipei’s most important ally — have cited 2027 as a possible timeline for an invasion. In April, South Korea’s Yoon said tensions over Taiwan were due to “attempts to change the status quo by force”.

The comment resulted in a diplomatic tit-for-tat with China, which is South Korea’s biggest trading partner. Last month, Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing made efforts to organise a trilateral leaders’ summit. The last such meeting was in 2019.

Washington warned in November that military ties between North Korea and Russia were “growing and dangerous” and called on China to restrain Pyongyang.

On Saturday, Sullivan also said the three allies have launched “new trilateral initiatives” to “counter the threats” posed by North Korea, including “deepened collaboration” among their coast guards.

The allies’ defence chiefs had earlier agreed to activate a real-time data-sharing operation on North Korean missile launches, starting this month. The North successfully put a military spy satellite into orbit in November — with Seoul saying Pyongyang did so with Moscow’s help.

North Korea soon after said its eye in the sky was already providing images of major US and South Korean military sites.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2023

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