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Kono, Japan's new foreign minister, tackles North Korea issues during ASEAN debut

Kyodo

As he made his international debut in Manila on Sunday, newly appointed Foreign Minister Taro Kono agreed with his regional counterparts to put more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile ambitions.

After arriving in the Philippine capital, Kono, who assumed his post Thursday in a Cabinet reshuffle, met with the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He also held talks with Lim Jock Seng, Brunei’s second minister of foreign affairs and trade.

Kono and Lim “shared the view that it is important to strengthen pressure (on North Korea),” the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.

Kono’s debut on the world stage came after the U.N. Security Council on Saturday imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea that will slash the nation’s $3 billion of annual export revenue by a third in response to Pyongyang’s two long-range missile tests in July.

The sanctions resolution was the seventh the Security Council has imposed on North Korea since 2006, when the country carried out its first nuclear test.

On Monday, Kono is set to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the ASEAN-related gatherings, a Japanese government official said.

During their first meeting since Kono assumed his post, the two ministers are expected to exchange views on how to tackle North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, two days after the U.N. Security Council piled fresh sanctions on Pyongyang.

Japan is likely to ask China to steadily implement the new sanctions and play a key role in dealing with North Korea.

Kono will also hold a meeting Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to affirm their coordination over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

The three ministers will share their assessments of North Korea’s repeated strategic provocations and discuss responses, the ministry said.

Kang and Kono will hold a separate meeting Monday in the Philippine capital, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

During his visit to Manila, Kono is also looking to bolster economic and security cooperation with ASEAN in light of China’s rapid building of artificial islands in the South China Sea in recent years.

At the Japan-ASEAN talks, Kono said, “Japan has consistently supported political and economic development of ASEAN since the first Japan-ASEAN summit meeting in 1977.”

Japan “will continue to assist further integration of the ASEAN communities,” he added.

Kono has suggested he will remind Beijing of the importance of the rule of law in dealing with disputes in the waters, one of the world’s vital shipping routes, where several ASEAN nations have overlapping territorial claims with China.

“We have to speak up when we should,” Kono said ahead of his trip.

Japan has been mired in a territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, a group of uninhabited islets controlled by Japan and claimed by Beijing, which calls the islands Diaoyu.

Kono also held a separate gathering Sunday with the foreign ministers of the five ASEAN countries situated along the Mekong River — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, along with the five nations.

A bilateral meeting that had been scheduled for Sunday between Kono and Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, whose country is hosting the ASEAN Regional Forum, was cancelled due to Cayetano’s health, diplomatic sources said.

On Monday, Kono is slated to participate in the ARF, an annual security gathering involving foreign ministers from nearly 30 nations including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the ASEAN members. It is one of the very few multilateral events also attended by North Korea’s foreign minister almost every year.

Before leaving Japan, the new foreign minister visited Hiroshima to attend a ceremony to mark the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city in World War II.