The U.S. is putting Korea under more pressure in its nascent cold war against China, asking for support in keeping China's territorial expansion in the South China Sea in check.
Several U.S. government officials have asked for Korea's support over freedom of navigation in waters where six ASEAN member countries are involved in territorial disputes with China, according to multiple sources here and in the U.S. The Foreign Ministry here on Thursday declined to confirm or deny whether any such request was made.
China claims sovereignty over around 90 percent of the resource-rich waters. But the U.S. is currently engaged in naval maneuvers in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, which are disputed with the Philippines, on behalf of ASEAN members.
The Korean government has so far tried to keep out of the spats for fear of provoking China and has simply called for the disputes to be settled by "peaceful means."
But U.S. pressure is growing for Seoul to come off the fence, even if that means further retaliation from China like the 2017 unofficial boycott of Korean goods and services after the U.S. stationed a Terminal High-Altitutde Area Defense battery here.
Washington also wants Korea to join its anti-Huawei campaign, which is part of a broader trade war with the world's most populous country.
Korea faces its first challenge at the Asia Security Summit or Shangri-La Dialogue at the end of this month, where the defense ministers of Seoul, Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and ASEAN meet. The issues are also likely to come up when U.S. President Donald Trump visits Korea next month.
The U.S. has been holding two naval drills in the South China Sea which it claims are aimed at manifesting opposition to China's "excessive" territorial claims and "guarantee" access to the waters according to international law.