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Blinken’s arrival in South Korea marks start of Asia tour for democracy summit

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his way to South Korea on Sunday, initiating a brief Asia tour that includes the Philippines. This move by Washington aims to strengthen connections with two crucial regional partners. Blinken’s arrival in Seoul comes just ahead of the third Summit for Democracy set for Monday, a key initiative of US President Joe Biden being hosted by Seoul this week.

Before reaching Seoul, Blinken had a quick stop in Bahrain, engaging with King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on efforts towards achieving a ceasefire in Gaza. The upcoming summit, scheduled from March 18-20, will assemble government officials, NGOs, and civil society members. Seoul, as one of Washington’s significant regional allies, currently hosts around 27,000 American troops to bolster its defense against North Korea’s nuclear threats.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of Seoul’s conservative administration has notably strengthened ties with Washington and worked towards resolving historical tensions with Japan to enhance security against Pyongyang’s provocations. Blinken is scheduled to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul to discuss strategies for reinforcing the alliance, particularly in terms of enhancing their “extended deterrence” against North Korea.

Despite its intended focus on democracy, the summit has faced criticism for its selective guest list, excluding countries like Thailand and Turkey, which consider themselves democratic. Following his time in Seoul, Blinken will proceed to Manila to reaffirm the enduring commitment to the Philippine ally, emphasizing the importance of the relationship amidst regional challenges, notably concerning China and the South China Sea disputes.

As part of the US’s efforts to counterbalance China’s influence, Blinken’s discussions with local officials in Manila, including President Ferdinand Marcos, will center on various issues, with a particular focus on managing tensions in the South China Sea. The US is actively working to strengthen ties with regional allies like Manila, aiming to bolster partnerships and regional stability amidst growing geopolitical complexities.

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