Asia Minute: Pentagon Leaders in Asia

Nov 15, 2019

Some of the top military leadership of the United States is in Asia today. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been in South Korea this week, and today he’s joined by the Defense Secretary — who’s starting a regional tour.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is on his second trip to the Asia Pacific after only about four months in office.

It’s a little more than a week this time with stops in South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Seoul visit will include talks about raising the amount of money South Korea pays in support of the 28,500 U.S. service personnel stationed in the country. Last week, a South Korean legislator said U.S. officials will be asking for annual payments of 5-billion dollars — more than five times the current agreement, which expires at the end of this year.

The U.S. side hasn’t confirmed any numbers, but Esper told reporters the U.S. has “asked for a significant increase in the cost sharing for our deployed troops.”

The Thailand stop includes an expanded meeting of the defense ministers of ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At that gathering, the Defense Secretary is scheduled to talk with his Chinese counterpart in their first face to face meeting.

The Korean Broadcasting System reports he’s also planning to host a trilateral meeting with two feuding regional U.S. allies: South Korea and Japan.

An escalating dispute between Seoul and Tokyo has been building for months — and South Korea has announced plans to pull out of an intelligence sharing agreement as of the end of next week.