• Kyodo

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday for talks with Japanese leaders, with Tokyo-Washington coordination against the growing North Korean missile and nuclear threat expected to be high on the agenda.

During a planned meeting on Thursday afternoon, Tillerson and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida are expected to affirm the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance following missile launches by North Korea earlier this month, Japanese officials said. The visit is Tillerson’s first to Japan since assuming his post on Feb. 1,

“It is extremely important that Japan and the United States closely and frequently communicate given the changing security environment in the region,” Kishida told reporters on Tuesday.

“I hope to have a frank exchange of views on various issues, including on North Korea,” said Kishida, who will be talking with Tillerson for the fifth time, including two phone calls.

Tillerson’s visit to Japan, followed by trips to South Korea and China, comes as the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump is undertaking a review of its policy on North Korea, including putting the country back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Kishida and Tillerson are also expected to discuss concrete ways to deepen Japan-U.S. security and defense cooperation, eyeing an early convening of “two-plus-two” security talks involving the countries’ foreign and defense ministers.

After meeting and holding a joint news conference with Kishida in Tokyo, Tillerson will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the afternoon, the officials said.

On top of test-firing more than 20 ballistic missiles and conducting two nuclear tests last year alone, Pyongyang launched four missiles nearly simultaneously on March 6, with one falling as close as 200 kilometers from Japan’s coast in the Sea of Japan.

The Chinese military’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas is also likely to be one of the main agenda items in the talks between Kishida and Tillerson, with Japan hoping for continued U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region under the Trump administration.

On the economic front, they will discuss how to enhance economic cooperation following the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which reversed the preceding administration’s promotion of the regional trade pact as a central part of its Asia policy.

Kishida and Tillerson may also touch on relations with Russia, given that the secretary of state is known to have close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, having served as chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. and been involved in a natural gas and oil development project off Sakhalin.

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