SINGAPORE – The defense ministers of Japan, South Korea and the United States agreed Saturday that they will continue to take a tough stance on North Korea in response to its leadership’s declaration at last month’s ruling party congress that the communist nation will continue to pursue nuclear weapons.
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said they agreed to work closely and urge North Korea to immediately refrain from taking further provocative actions.
Nakatani spoke to the press after holding talks with his South Korean and U.S. counterparts, Han Min-koo and Ash Carter, in Singapore on the sidelines of Asia’s annual premier security forum known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“We have made tremendous progress together this past year,” Ash Carter, said, adding that their plan to conduct a ballistic missile warning exercise together for the first time in late June is “just one concrete example” of close cooperation.
The trilateral meeting comes as North Korea has begun signaling a willingness to reach out to other countries.
Earlier this week, a trusted confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traveled to China, North Korea’s long-standing ally and benefactor, where he met with President Xi Jinping.
The courtesy call Wednesday of Ri Su Yong, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, marked Xi’s first meeting in three years with a senior official from North Korea in the Chinese capital.
When Ri briefed Xi on the results of the party congress, which was held for the first time in 36 years, he said the event has showed that the “Byungjin Line” — Kim’s signature policy of simultaneously developing the economy and nuclear arms — “remains unchanged.”
Xi said the situation on the Korean Peninsula is sensitive and urged all sides to “remain calm, exercise restraint, and increase communication and dialogue, and safeguard regional peace and stability.”
Still, both sides agreed to cherish their traditional friendship,
While China is more flexible in its approach to North Korea, suggesting the need of exploring all means to help bring the nuclear issue back to the negotiating table, Japan, South Korea and the United States remain reluctant to engage in diplomacy with Kim’s regime.
Japan, South Korea and the United States all favor increasing pressure on North Korea and have ruled out a resumption of multilateral negotiations until Pyongyang first takes concrete action toward giving up its nuclear ambitions.
During a separate meeting with the South Korean defense minister, Nakatani said they agreed to consider setting up new hotlines between higher-ranking officials, possibly including one between themselves, so that they will be better prepared to deal with North Korea’s provocations and other contingencies.