“Alliance Talks (tentative name),” working level discussions about the South Korea-U.S. alliance, are stumbling even before they officially begin. Disagreements between the two nations surfaced when the U.S. Department of State denied that it agreed to have the talks as stated by South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jung-kun at a briefing for correspondents.
According to U.S. sources who are familiar with foreign affairs on Friday, the Department of State was not happy about the use of the word, “agreement.” It appears to think that further discussion should have taken place before the announcement was made although it responded positively to the idea of holding talks when First Vice Foreign Minister Choi proposed it. Some officials in the department even think that it was all to help First Vice Foreign Minister Choi make an achievement during his first visit to the United States.
“Alliance Talks” were not mentioned in the U.S. Department of State’s press release about the meeting between Deputy Secretary Biegun and First Vice Foreign Minister Choi either. When The Dong-A Ilbo asked its stance on the consultative body, the newspaper was told to refer to the press release, which only states that they discussed ways to enhance the alliance in terms of COVID-19 response and recovery, the Special Measures Agreement, cooperation with Japan and peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.
“Press releases contain the information a country wants to highlight,” explained First Vice Foreign Minister Choi to the press at Incheon International Airport on Friday. “This does not mean Washington disagrees with Seoul.” This could mean that the United States did not want to highlight Alliance Talks. The stance of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that further discussion is needed to firm up details such as the exact date of the talks, while it said Alliance Talks have been discussed even before First Vice Foreign Minister Choi’s visit. Many point out that it was too early for Choi to reveal the schedule of the first talk. Amid mounting controversy, it is said that the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinated it with the US Department of State again through the South Korean embassy to the United States.
It appears that South Korea’s reluctance to join in the United States’ anti-Chinese policies and Indo-Pacific strategies has contributed to the tensions. It is said that some officials at the Department of State complained how Choi laid out agendas that South Korea wanted to discuss without talking about issues that hold interest for the United States such as China. This indicates that issues brought up by Choi, such as the transfer of wartime operational control and the future role of the United Nations Command, were currently of little interest to the United States. It also seems that they did not feel comfortable about recent remarks by high officials of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign affairs and members of the ruling party, which devalued the alliance between the two countries.