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UPDATE 6-Blinken blasts 'aggressive' China, North Korea's 'systemic, widespread' rights abuses

Global Mar 18, 2021 00:40
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© Reuters.

* Blinken, Austin on first overseas trip to South Korea,
* Blinken blames China's territorial claims, democracy
* South Korea accused of overlooking North Korea rights

(Adds Republican praise for Biden approach; amends garbled
quote in paragraph 7)
By Hyonhee Shin and Humeyra Pamuk
SEOUL/TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken said on Wednesday China was acting aggressively
and repressively, and accused North Korea of committing
"systemic and widespread abuses" against its own people.
Blinken's remarks exposed a fissure in the approaches of
Washington and to China and North Korea, openly pressing South
Korea to join hands to keep Beijing in check and stressing the
need to stand up for human rights in North Korea.
Blinken was visiting Japan and South Korea alongside Defense
Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a first overseas trip by top-level
members of President Joe Biden's administration aimed at
rebuilding U.S. alliances in Asia.
At talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong
in Seoul, Blinken said China was using "coercion and
aggression," citing its actions towards Taiwan and Hong Kong and
in the contested East and South China Seas.
China's extensive territorial claims in the East and South
China Seas, contested by Japan and other Asian states, have
become a priority issue in increasingly testy relations between
Washington and Beijing.
Beijing's claims have prompted Japan to seek even closer
ties with the United States, but the Sino-U.S. rivalry poses a
challenge for Seoul, which is not eager to provoke China, its
largest economic partner and an ally of North Korea.
"China is using coercion and aggression to systematically
erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse
human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims
in the South China Sea that violate international law," Blinken
Blinken urged Seoul to "stand up to shared values" together
to prevent a "dangerous erosion of democracy" in the region.
He told an online roundtable with Japanese journalists in
Tokyo earlier on Wednesday that China was raising tensions by
"acting both more repressively at home and more aggressively
The comments echoed a joint statement issued by Blinken,
Austin and their Japanese counterparts after "2+2" talks in
Tokyo, and came ahead of Blinken's first in-person meetings with
Chinese counterparts planned for this week in Alaska.
"We look forward to the opportunity to lay out in very clear
terms to our Chinese counterparts some of the concerns that we
have about the actions they're taking," Blinken said.
China's foreign ministry protested the joint statement,
calling it a "malicious attack" and "gross interference in
China's internal affairs." In Washington, where lawmakers are crafting a sweeping
package of legislation to counter China's behavior, Senate
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised the Democratic Biden
administration for working with allies on the issue.
"That clear-eyed talk is certainly welcome, but it's just
the first step," he said, adding that Washington should respond
"in tough ways" to China's espionage activity, human rights
violations and trade misdeeds.
"If the administration is up to the task, they'll find
strong partners in this Republican Congress," he said.

Blinken sharply criticized North Korea's human rights
record, an issue activists say was overlooked under former U.S.
President Donald Trump, who held unprecedented summits and
boasted of rapport with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Biden succeeded Trump as president two months ago.
South Korea has faced international scrutiny after
supporting a new law banning the launching of anti-Kim leaflets
into the North and canceling licenses of some defector groups
that had led the campaign. President Moon Jae-in's administration, keen to revive
cross-border exchanges, has said the leaflets had caused safety
concerns and North Korean human rights could be improved by
resuming humanitarian aid.
"The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit
systemic and widespread abuses against its own people," Blinken
told Chung. "We must stand with the people that demand
fundamental rights and freedom against those who repress them."
The State Department issued a statement saying both
officials agreed to work together to resolve North Korea's
nuclear and missile issues, calling them a "priority."
South Korea's foreign ministry said they also agreed to
continue discussions to arrange a summit between Moon and Biden
as early as possible, and to coordinate on North Korea while
Washington's policy review on the country is under way.
Austin held separate talks with South Korean Defense
Minister Suh Wook and pledged to continue providing extended
deterrence, including a U.S. nuclear umbrella, Seoul's defense
ministry said in a statement.
Both sides reaffirmed their shared goal of complete
denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, it
"The alliance has never been more important," Austin told
the meeting, citing "unprecedented challenges" posed by North
Korea and China.

UPDATE 6-Blinken blasts 'aggressive' China, North Korea's 'systemic, widespread' rights abuses

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