After infuriating China over her trip to Taiwan, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met South Korean political leaders in Seoul on Thursday but avoided making direct public comments on relations with Beijing and Taipei that could further increase regional tensions.
Ms. Pelosi, the first House speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, said on Wednesday in Taipei that the American commitment to democracy in the self-governing island and elsewhere “remains ironclad”. In response, China on Thursday began military exercises in six zones surrounding Taiwan.
After visiting Taiwan, Ms. Pelosi and other members of her congressional delegation flew to South Korea — a key U.S. ally where about 28,500 American troops are deployed — on Wednesday evening, as part of an Asian tour that included earlier stops in Singapore and Malaysia.
She met South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin Pyo and other senior members of Parliament on Thursday. After that hour-long meeting, Ms. Pelosi spoke about the bilateral alliance, forged in blood during the 1950-53 Korean War, and legislative efforts to boost ties, but didn’t directly mention her Taiwan visit or the Chinese protests.
“We also come to say to you that a friendship, (the) relationship that began from urgency and security, many years ago, has become the warmest of friendships,” Ms. Pelosi said in a joint news conference with Mr. Kim. “We want to advance security, economy and governance in an inter-parliamentary way.”
Neither Ms. Pelosi nor Mr. Kim took questions from journalists.
Mr. Kim said he and Ms. Pelosi shared concerns about North Korea’s increasing 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.
Ms. Pelosi and her delegation later spoke by phone with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on the alliance, foreign policy and other issues. Mr. Yoon is on vacation this week, but critics accuse him of intentionally shunning a face-to-face meeting with Ms. Pelosi in consideration of ties with China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner. Mr. Yoon’s office said it had reviewed national interests and that Mr. Yoon’s vacation plan had already been set up when, about two weeks ago, Pelosi’s side contacted his office about a possible meeting.
During the phone conversation, Ms. Pelosi and other members of her congressional delegation didn’t bring up the Taiwan issue, and Mr. Yoon also didn’t raise the matter, his office said.
In recent years, South Korea has been struggling to strike a balance between the U.S. and China as their rivalry has deepened. Mr. Yoon, a conservative, took office in May with a vow to boost South Korea’s military alliance with the U.S. and take a tougher line on North Korean provocations.
Later on Thursday, Ms. Pelosi was to visit a border area with North Korea that is jointly controlled by the American-led UN Command and North Korea, South Korean officials said. If that visit occurs, Ms. Pelosi would 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.
Mr. Yoon said Ms. Pelosi’s visit to the JSA would demonstrate “a strong deterrence against North Korea” by the allies, said Kim Tae-hyo, a deputy presidential national security adviser.