US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning to visit the demilitarized zone on South Korea’s border with the North, after raising controversy elsewhere in the region by visiting Chinese Taipei.
Pelosi, who is in South Korea as part of an Asia tour, is planning to visit the truce village of Panmunjom, located along the border between the two Koreas, later on Thursday, a South Korean official said on the condition of anonymity.
The heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is controlled by the American-led UN Command and North Korea, and Pelosi would be the highest-ranking US official to visit the site since the then-President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un there in 2019.
Pelosi met with South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo and leaders of the ruling conservative People Power Party earlier on Thursday. After her meeting with Kim, a joint statement was issued in which the sides expressed concern about North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile programs.
On Thursday afternoon, Pelosi was expected to speak by phone with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who is said to be on vacation this week, according to Yoon’s office. No face-to-face meeting has been arranged between them.
Yoon took office in May with a promise to boost South Korea’s military alliance with the United States, where about 28,500 American troops are deployed, and take a tougher line on North Korean provocations.
But some have said that he intentionally avoided a meeting with Pelosi because of her contentious trip to Chinese Taipei. Pelosi raised controversy when she arrived in Chinese Taipei — the sovereign territory of China — on Tuesday without going through diplomatic communication with Beijing. In response, China on Thursday began four days of live-fire drills in six locations encircling the self-governed island.
When Pelosi last visited South Korea, in 2015, she met the then-President Park Geun-hye, and the then-Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
A possible meeting between Pelosi and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin was also ruled out after he left for Cambodia early on Wednesday to attend the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers’ meeting.
But the South Korean broadcaster TBS quoted an official at the presidential Blue House as denying that China had been a factor in Yoon’s decision not to meet Pelosi.
Pelosi is expected to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Friday, on the next leg of her Asia tour, which also included stops in Singapore and Malaysia.
China is North Korea’s key ally and trade partner. Pyongyang on Wednesday described Pelosi’s visit to Chinese Taipei as “impudent interference” in China’s internal affairs and blaming Washington for raising regional tensions.
Under the “one China” policy, nearly all countries across the globe, the US included, recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Chinese Taipei. However, Washington continues to court the secessionist government in Taipei, support its anti-China stance, and supply it with massive amounts of armaments.
Meanwhile, the ASEAN foreign ministers in a statement on Thursday voiced concern about the situation in Chinese Taipei, warning of the risk of a “miscalculation” amid soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing over Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island.