(Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s defense chief begins a visit to South Korea on Monday in one of the strongest shows of support for its military ally locked in a bitter feud with North Korea over a deadly torpedo attack.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be joined later in the week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a high-profile meeting in Seoul to respond to the North and to discuss ways to deter it from any future attack.
But the unprecedented meeting of top diplomats and defense officials between the allies risks angering China, with an expected announcement of U.S.-South Korean military exercises that have set off alarms in Beijing.
Tension between North and South Korea remains high following the March sinking of the warship Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors. Pyongyang has denied responsibility and escaped censure this month from the United Nations, which condemned the attack but, in deference to China, did not directly blame North Korea.