TOKYO — During meetings with Asian leaders on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris underscored the US commitment to regional security, and the White House said she would visit the demilitarized zone separating rival Koreas.
North Korea tested a short-range ballistic missile just before Harris left Washington, an apparent response to joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that included the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the DMZ in August, and then-President Donald Trump went there in 2019 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. President Joe Biden was not in South Korea earlier this year.
Harris’ plan, kept secret by her team, was unexpectedly revealed in a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo on Tuesday. A White House official rushed to confirm details of their trip afterwards. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Harris would “tour sites in the DMZ, meet with military personnel and receive operational briefing from US commanders.”
She will also “reflect on the shared sacrifice of tens of thousands of American and Korean soldiers who fought and died together” in the war that divided the peninsula 70 years ago.
According to the White House, Harris also spoke to Han about South Korea’s grievances about the Inflation Reduction Act, which excludes electric cars built outside of North America from government subsidies.
Security concerns have dominated Harris’ public statements during their meetings in Tokyo, where she attended the state funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July.
Sitting with Han, Harris said the US alliance with South Korea is the “linchpin of security and prosperity” in the region.
“We stand by you in the face of threats,” she said.
Harris then met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and told him their countries had a “common purpose and bond in our commitment to peace and security.”
The talks follow Harris’ Monday meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shortly after his arrival in Tokyo.
During that meeting, Harris described the US alliance with Japan as “a cornerstone of what we believe is essential to peace, stability and prosperity” in the region.
Like the abrupt disclosure of Harris’ trip to the DMZ, the meeting with Kishida was one of confusion. His staff attempted to usher reporters out of the room while Harris was still speaking. The excitement drowned out some of her comments, making it difficult for her office to complete a transcript of her accurate comments.
In addition to concerns about North Korea, there are rising tensions over Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers part of its territory. Biden recently said the US would send troops to defend Taiwan should China attack. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said Saturday any attempt to prevent reunification with Taiwan would be “crushed by the wheels of history.”