Biden says US "pivot" to Asia cannot be derailed

December 6, 2013 4:55 AM

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Biden says US "pivot" to Asia cannot be derailed

US Vice President Joe Biden said Friday there should be no doubt about US commitment to its strategic shift to Asia as he started the final leg of a regional tour dominated by security concerns.

SEOUL: US Vice President Joe Biden said Friday there should be no doubt about US commitment to its strategic shift to Asia as he started the final leg of a regional tour dominated by security concerns.

Meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye in Seoul, Biden said the 60-year military alliance between the two countries was as strong as ever, amid regional tensions over China's declaration of a new air defence identification zone and North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

"I want to make one thing absolutely clear: President Obama's decision to rebalance to the Pacific basin is not in question," Biden said as the two leaders sat down for talks.

"The United States never says anything it does not do. It's never been a good bet to bet against America... and America will continue to place its bet on South Korea," he added.

President Barack Obama last year unveiled a new security strategy that emphasised a shift or "pivot" towards the Asia region, reflecting worries over China's growing military power.

But he called off a trip to the region in October to negotiate with Republicans over a budget impasse that had triggered automatic cuts to US military spending, raising concerns in Asia that the promised rebalance could be derailed.

Seoul was Biden's last stop on a three-country Asia tour that has already taken him to China and Japan.

President Park was expected to press Biden Friday morning on China's new "air defence identification zone" (ADIZ), which has not only inflamed Beijing's territorial disputes with Japan, but also overlaps South Korea's own ADIZ.

Seoul has threatened to announce the expansion of its ADIZ in retaliation -- a move Biden is expected to discourage as Washington seeks to calm what is already a dangerously volatile mood in the region.

During his stops in Tokyo and Beijing, Biden underlined Washington's opposition to Beijing's move, but stopped short of demanding that China rescind the air zone.

Tensions in the region are at their highest in years, with China and Japan squaring off over a chain of uninhabited islands in a feud that has some observers warning of the danger of an armed confrontation.

Seoul has also denounced the new Chinese air zone which covers a tiny, South Korean-controlled rock in the East China Sea that is also claimed by Beijing.

As well as seeking to reassure Park, Biden will be looking to encourage Seoul to pursue better relations with Tokyo.

As the battle for influence in Asia between China and the United States heats up, Washington wants its two main military allies in the region on board and undivided.

But South Korea and Japan are going through one of their regular diplomatic freezes, with Park refusing to even talk to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until Tokyo apologises for a host of historical grievances related to Japan's 1910-45 rule over the Korean peninsula.

On Saturday, Biden is scheduled to tour the demilitarised zone that has separated South and North Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

As Biden arrived in Seoul on Thursday night, the threat posed by Pyongyang was underlined by the publication of new satellite images that appeared to show increased activity at North Korea's main nuclear site, in line with the regime's vows to expand its weapons programme.

His visit also comes just days after South Korea's intelligence agency reported a major purge in the North Korean leadership, with the apparent ousting of leader Kim Jong-Un's uncle and political mentor Jang Song-Thaek.

The report triggered fevered speculation about the stability of the regime in Pyongyang at a time when North Korea is pressing ahead on all fronts with its nuclear weapons programme.

China has been pushing hard for Washington and Seoul to resume six-party talks on the North's nuclear ambitions, but they insist Pyongyang must first demonstrate tangible commitment to denuclearisation.

"The dialogue has to be designed as something other than just either a dead-end or talking for the sake of talking," a senior White House official told reporters during Biden's stop in China.

The United States is currently trying to secure the release of two of its citizens being held in North Korea, including an 85-year-old Korean War veteran.


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