US Secretary of State John Kerry will make his fifth trip to North and Southeast Asia on Thursday, stopping in China, South Korea and Indonesia for climate change and North Korea talks.
The globe-trotting top US diplomat will also visit Abu Dhabi at the end of his February 13-18 voyage, his spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
In Seoul, Kerry will “discuss ways to expand our cooperation on regional and global issues, and continue our close coordination… on North Korea,” Psaki said.
Kerry last visited Seoul in April, and the new trip comes just after Washington learned Friday that a US citizen has been returned to a labor camp after having been hospitalized for poor health.
Washington has repeatedly called for the release of Kenneth Bae after the devout Korean American Christian missionary was detained in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor on charges of trying to topple the government.
In Beijing, Kerry will highlight the role that the United States and China — the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming — can play in combating climate change.
Kerry will also “relay the message that the United States is committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship and welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China that plays a positive role in world affairs,” Psaki said.
The Beijing visit, also his second as secretary of state, comes however amid growing regional tensions over China’s territorial ambitions after it unilaterally extended its air defense zone over the South China Sea.
The United States has urged Beijing to clarify or adjust its claims in the South China Sea, calling for a peaceful solution to one of Asia’s growing flashpoints.
On Friday, Kerry reaffirmed a 1960 treaty with Japan and vowed the US would defend its ally against attack, including over islands claimed by China.
Beijing claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety, even areas a long way from its shoreline, but portions are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
After China, the top US diplomat will then travel to Jakarta for talks with senior Indonesian leaders, before heading to Abu Dhabi, where his discussions are likely to focus on Middle East peace and the conflict in Syria.