Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed Monday to take “further actions” to deter North Korea just days after the isolated nation successfully tested a powerful long-range missile, Japanese officials said.
“Under the strong Japan-U.S. bond, we will take concrete actions to enhance our defense capabilities and do all we can to ensure that the public is safe from the North Korean threat,” Abe told reporters after an unusually long, 52-minute teleconference with Trump.
“We highly value the commitment by Mr. Trump to take all necessary steps to protect allied countries” from North Korea’s growing missile threat, he added.
The teleconference followed the North’s second test Friday of an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say could reach most U.S. cities.
Japanese officials declined to clarify what “further actions” the two were contemplating to counter Pyongyang.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would exhaust “each and every method” to urge countries to fully follow through with economic sanctions against the North as required by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley urged China, the North’s patron, to take bolder steps to rein Pyongyang.
“Done talking about NKorea. China is aware they must act. Japan & SKorea must inc pressure,” she said in a tweet.
Haley then retweeted the link to an article about a joint U.S.-South Korea-Japan military drill that saw bombers and fighter jets soar over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday.
In a separate a statement, Haley urged Beijing to fully implement the sanctions repeatedly called for in the U.N. resolutions.
“China must decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step,” she said in the statement.
Any U.N. resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value,” she said.
“In fact, it is worse than nothing, because it sends the message to the North Korean dictator that the international community is unwilling to seriously challenge him,” Haley added.
Experts say the U.S. is unlikely to launch a military strike against the North — at least for now — because that would likely spur an unacceptable level of retaliation that would endanger both Koreans and Americans of all types. War would be particularly devastating in densely populated Seoul, which is close to the demilitarized zone.
Such thinking has left Japan and the U.S. with little choice but to continue prodding China to cut off or severely limit trade with the North. Tokyo and Washington believe China is bankrolling Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, despite the stringent sanctions imposed by the U.N.
Beijing, however, has remained reluctant to acquiesce to repeated calls to scale back economic ties, particularly regarding crucial oil exports, Japanese and American officials said.
“China accounts for 90 percent of the value of trade by North Korea,” Suga said Monday. “China should play a very big role” in putting pressure Pyongyang to halt its missile advances.
Trump has also lambasted Beijing for doing too little.
“I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk,” Trump tweeted Saturday.
“We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” he wrote.
During Monday’s teleconference, Abe and Trump agreed that Friday’s ICBM test has “greatly increased the threat to both Japan and the U.S.,” Suga said.
Trump also said he is “very worried” because Friday’s missile landed unusually close to Hokkaido. He also reaffirmed America’s commitment to defending Japan if it is ever attacked by a third country, as obligated by their bilateral security pact, Japanese officials said.
Experts say there is no evidence Pyongyang has mastered the technology needed to build a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an ICBM and to protect it from extremely the high temperatures experienced on re-entry.
Japan hosts a number of U.S. military bases, another reason Tokyo fears that it could become an important target for North Korea should a second Korean war break out.