February 24, 2024

SEOUL, South Korea — After angering China over her trip to Taiwan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with South Korean political leaders in Seoul on Thursday but refrained from making direct public comments about relations with Beijing and Taipei that would could further increase regional tensions.

Pelosi, the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, said Wednesday in Taipei that America’s commitment to democracy on the self-ruled island and elsewhere “remains ironclad.” In response, China on Thursday began military exercises, including missile-launch training, in six zones around Taiwan in what could be the largest of their kind since the mid-1990s.

After visiting Taiwan, Pelosi and other members of her congressional delegation flew to South Korea – a key US ally where some 28,500 US troops are deployed – on Wednesday night as part of an Asian tour that included earlier stops in Singapore and Malaysia.

He met with South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo and other senior members of parliament on Thursday. After that hour-long meeting, Pelosi spoke about the bilateral alliance, forged in blood during the 1950-53 Korean War, and legislative efforts to strengthen ties, but did not immediately mention her visit to Taiwan or the Chinese demonstrations.

“We also come to tell you that a friendship, a relationship that began with urgency and security, many years ago, has become the warmest of friendships,” Pelosi said at a joint news conference with Kim. “We want to advance security, economy and governance in a cross-parliamentary way.”

Neither Pelosi nor Kim took questions from reporters.

Kim said he and Pelosi shared concerns about North Korea’s growing nuclear threat. He said the two agreed to support their governments’ push for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula based on both strong deterrence against North Korea and diplomacy.

Pelosi and her delegation later spoke by phone with South Korean President Yun Suk-yeol about the alliance, foreign policy and other issues. Yoon is on vacation this week, but critics accuse him of deliberately avoiding a face-to-face meeting with Pelosi, given ties to China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner. Yoon’s office said it had reviewed the national interests.

During the phone conversation, Pelosi and other members of her congressional delegation did not raise the issue of Taiwan, and Yun also did not raise the issue, Yun’s office said.

In recent years, South Korea has struggled to find a balance between the United States and China as their rivalry deepens. Yoon, a conservative, took office in May vowing to strengthen South Korea’s military alliance with the United States and take a harder line on North Korean provocations.

Later on Thursday, Pelosi was to visit a border area with North Korea jointly controlled by the US-led UN Command and North Korea, South Korean officials said. If that visit takes place, Pelosi will be the highest-level American to go to the Joint Security Area since then-President Donald Trump visited in 2019 for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Yun said Pelosi’s visit to the JSA would demonstrate “a strong deterrence against North Korea” by allies, said Kim Tae-hyo, the president’s deputy national security adviser.

Sitting within the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, a reserve created at the end of the Korean War, the JSA is the site of bloodshed in the past and a place for many conversations. US presidents and other top officials have often traveled to the JSA and other border regions to reaffirm their commitment to South Korean security.

Any critical statement about North Korea from Pelosi is sure to elicit an angry response from her. On Wednesday, the North’s Foreign Ministry criticized the United States for its trip to Taiwan, saying “the current situation clearly shows that the US’s brazen interference in the internal affairs of other countries… (is) the root cause of disturbed peace and security in the region.”

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