U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were set to host South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin yesterday, to discuss how to strengthen their capabilities against the threat posed by North Korea, the Associated Press has reported.
The State Department said the meeting would cover a full range of bilateral, regional and global issues. However, attention is likely to focus on North Korea. The North in April attempted to blast a rocket into space, violating a United Nations ban, with speculation subsequently growing that it was preparing for a nuclear test. Last week, Pyongyang said it currently had no plans to conduct one, despite what it called South Korean “provocation.”
The meeting comes as China is preparing to conduct an annual naval training drill in the western Pacific on June 15, Agence France-Presse cited Chinese state media as saying. The exercise is “not aimed at any specific country or target,” the defense ministry said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency. “China hopes all relevant sides will respect China’s maritime rights, such as freedom of navigation.”
The ministry did not give further information about the location of the drill, when it would be held, or which ships would participate.
The tension in the region may further increase with the U.S. also preparing to hold naval exercises in the Pacific following China’s drill.
The naval forces of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan will stage a joint drill next week, according to the U.S. defense ministry. The two-day drill, which begins next June 21 in waters off South Korea’s southern island of Jeju, will involve training in search and rescue operations and maritime interdiction operations, Xinhua reported yesterday. Destroyers and anti-submarine helicopters will be mobilized for what officials call an exercise “of a humanitarian nature,” launched in 2008, the ministry said in a statement. Also, South Korea and the U.S. are set to launch a separate, three-day drill on June 23 in waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.