US Secretary of State Announces Strategic Patience Policy With North Korea Has Ended

It appears to me that the Trump administration’s get tough on North Korea policy that includes increased emphasis on military strike rhetoric is aimed more at China than North Korea.  Tillerson seems to be basically signaling to the Chinese that if they don’t enforce stronger sanctions and reign in North Korea then the US will by military means:

In a press conference in Seoul, Tillerson declared the end of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” policy and signaled a sharp turn toward a tougher policy involving ramped-up sanctions, pressure and even military actions.

“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” he said. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”

Tillerson said that military measures could be one option if the threat from the North gets too high.

He also ruled out the possibility of any immediate negotiations. He noted that conditions are “not ripe” for any talks with the North, while calling on China to do more to induce a meaningful change in its behavior.

In Tokyo, he emphasized the need for a “new approach” after the failure of the past two decades of talks and aid to the North on hopes that it will take the path to denuclearization.

He didn’t provide details but provided a glimpse into what appears to be the Trump administration’s new policy toward the recalcitrant North, experts said.

Wang, meanwhile, hinted that China doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the U.S. on how to deal with the North. He said that diplomacy should be pursued and called for the resumption of the long-suspended six-party denuclearization talks.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Tillerson to Visit South Korea Next Week

I am sure the US Secretary of State will have plenty to talk about with his ROK counterparts next week considering all the domestic political and security issues between the two countries:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to visit South Korea later this week for meetings with senior government officials to discuss issues of mutual concern including the growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, officials said Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stay in South Korea for two days from March 17 during which he will meet with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and other senior government officials.

Tillerson’s talks with Yun will be held on the first day of his stay in Seoul. They are expected to discuss mostly the North’s nuclear threat and cooperation in applying more pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang, according to the officials.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Report Says Lotte to Transfer Golf Course for THAAD Deployment to ROK Government Next Week

It looks like next week the deployment of the THAAD battery to South Korea will take one more step closer to becoming a reality with the reported transfer of the golf course owned by the Lotte Group to the ROK government:

THAAD golf course korea

This aerial photo taken on Oct. 27, 2016, shows the golf course in Seongju, 290 kilometers southeast of Seoul, that will host the U.S. missile shield system THAAD, short for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. The golf course, owned by Lotte Group, was chosen as the final host site in late September.

The Thaad system, in the meanwhile, is set to be deployed in Korea by June at the earliest.

“After the Lotte Corporation holds a board meeting on Monday, it will likely sign a contract with the National Defense Ministry on Tuesday [to swap land for the Thaad deployment],” said a ministry official.

The two parties agreed in November to swap the Lotte Skyhill Seongju Country Club in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, for government land in Namyangju, Gyeonggi. The Thaad system will be deployed at the former golf course.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

Report Claims THAAD Will Be Exercised As Part of Key Resolve

KBS is reporting that the highly controversial THAAD battery will be part of the simulated portion of March’s Key Resolve exercise between the US and ROK militaries:

Anchor: South Korea and the U.S. will stage a simulation of THAAD missile interception during the annual Key Resolve military exercise next month. The allied forces are also expected to see the participation of strategic assets such as the B-1B and B-52 strategic bombers.
Our Bae Joo-yon has more.

Report: South Korea and the U.S. are said to be planning to apply the “4D” operational concept in their annual Key Resolve military exercise next month.

During the Security Consultative Meeting in 2015, defense chiefs of South Korea and the U.S. approved the 4D operational concept, to ‘detect, disrupt, destroy and defend’ against North Korean nuclear and biochemical missile threats.

While initializing the preventive and preemptive strike drill, the allied forces
will stage a simulation drill to shoot down an incoming North Korean missile with a THAAD battery.  [KBS World Radio]

You can read more at the link.

Is US Government Rushing THAAD to South Korea Before New President Takes Office?

That is what some are accusing the US of doing:

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia Program at the Center for a New American Security, wrote in his column before the defense ministerial talks, “Secretary Mattis and his Korean counterparts are likely to seek to accelerate the deployment date of the THAAD missile battery, so that it happens prior to the next Korean election.”

After the talks, Seoul’s ministry said the two officials agreed to push for the deployment as planned, but declined to comment on whether the system would be in place before the election.

Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said it is significant for the United States to finalize the plan at the earliest possible date as the political situation in South Korea has been unstable with some opposition lawmakers even calling for withdrawing the decision to deploy THAAD.

He said Washington probably sees the possibility for an opposition candidate winning the election, so is rushing to deploy the battery out of concerns that the decision could be overturned by the next government.

“Mattis probably visited South Korea to check the ongoing situation here and make sure of the deployment in accordance with the Trump administration’s plan to advance its global missile defense program to protect against missile attacks from North Korea and Iran,” he said.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

Secretary Mattis Reaffirms that North Korea is the Only Reason THAAD is Deploying to South Korea

The Chinese and the Russians both know the THAAD system is no threat to them, they are just using this as a way to create a wedge in the US-ROK alliance.  With a left wing candidate likely winning the upcoming ROK presidency if the impeachment of President Park is upheld it will be interesting to see what happens with the planned deployment of THAAD:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers questions from reporters during a flight to South Korea. Photo courtesy of the Defense Department.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that none other than North Korea needs to worry about the planned deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in South Korea.

Mattis, who arrived in Seoul on his first overseas trip since taking office, made the remark to reporters traveling together with him on the plane, stressing THAAD is a defensive system, according to a transcript provided by the Pentagon.

“There’s only one reason that we even have this under discussion right now, and that is North Korea’s activities,” Mattis said. “THAAD is for defense of our allies’ people, of our troops who are committed to their defense.”

“Were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea we would have no need for THAAD out here. There’s no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” he said.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Defense Secretary Mattis Begins 2-Day Trip to South Korea

So far, so good for Defense Secretary Mattis’ visit to South Korea:

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (Yonhap)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday began his two-day visit to South Korea in his first overseas trip aimed at underscoring the U.S. security commitment to the Asian ally amid growing threats from North Korea.

After landing at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, at 12:30 p.m., Mattis headed to the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, according to the defense ministry.

Mattis was briefed by USFK Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, including Seoul-Washington’s joint readiness against North Korean threats that include that it is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, military officials said.

He then met with Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin and attended a dinner event hosted by Defense Minister Han Min-koo at a Seoul hotel.

Hwang is currently serving as acting president after President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly over a corruption scandal.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but Mattis has reconfirmed the US commitment to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea despite Chinese objections.

ROK JCS To Lead Key Resolve 2017 Military Exercise

This year’s Key Resolve exercise will have a little twist with the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff leading it:

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead a combined military exercise with the U.S. from a new command center in March amid growing threats from North Korea, military officials said Monday.

“During the upcoming Key Resolve exercise, Seoul’s JCS will be responsible for exercise planning and control, operation of opposing forces, and after-drill meetings,” an official at the defense ministry said.

The exercise’s command center will be set up in an underground bunker of South Korea’s Capital Defense Command, as the JCS will lead the annual exercise with the U.S. staff playing a supporting role, according to the ministry.

When the U.S. side led the exercise, the command center used to be set up at the bunker of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

The JCS led the Key Resolve drills in 2013 as South Korea was scheduled to regain wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington in 2015. But the OPCON transfer was pushed back amid Pyongyang’s provocations. Seoul and Washington agreed on the “conditions-based” transfer, which observers say could come in mid-2020s.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.