WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense James Mattis will visit South Korea and Japan on his first trip abroad since taking office, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
Mattis will leave Feb. 1, arriving in Seoul where he will meet with South Korean Minister of National Defense Han Min Koo and other officials. On Feb. 3, Mattis will leave for Japan and sit down with Japanese Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada and other officials in Tokyo.
The trip will “underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The Obama administration made the “Pacific Pivot” a key part of its foreign policy and national security strategy. That Mattis is making his first trip to the region may speak to the ongoing concerns inside the Pentagon over the future of the US and Asia, especially as President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japanese officials have vocally supported the TPP, and defense ministers from around the region have raised concerns that without the TPP the US will have less power in the Pacific.
During the trip, the threat of North Korea will undoubtedly be on the table. During his Jan. 12 confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis said, “I don’t think we should take anything off the table” in regards to stopping the development of North Korean ICBM capabilities, adding, “It’s a serious threat. And I believe that we’ve gotta do something about it.”
“It’s going to take an international effort,” Mattis said later in his hearing. “It’s going to have to require nations in the region as well as us to work together on this. And that’s going to be challenging with at least one or two of the nations. But also, I think we’re going to have to look at our negotiation stance and working with State Department, see if we have the right stance for the way ahead.”