MANILA – The foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed Monday to ramp up international pressure on North Korea to compel the reclusive country to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
They affirmed it is vital that the international community as a whole “steadily enforce” U.N. sanctions on North Korea, including the latest package adopted Saturday in response to Pyongyang’s tests of two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, a Japanese official told reporters after a trilateral meeting in Manila.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha underscored that China, Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have important roles to play in pressuring North Korea and making U.N. sanctions more effective, the official said.
Tillerson and Kang “strongly backed” Japan’s efforts to address the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, the official said.
Faced with the rising threat posed by North Korea, the three ministers affirmed that greater pressure, rather than simply more talks, is needed so as to force North Korea into taking specific action toward denuclearization.
In July, North Korea conducted two ICBM tests, the second of which was, for the first time, apparently capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It was a show of major progress for its missile program, which — once perfected — could deliver nuclear weapons to Washington or New York.
In Monday’s trilateral meeting, Kono was quoted by the Japanese official as saying that China plays a key role in dissuading North Korea from further provocations.
China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade and is a major supplier of oil to the country. Kono proposed that Tokyo, Washington and Seoul also push Beijing to play a greater role in reining in Pyongyang.
Last month, Tillerson criticized Beijing and Moscow for being “the principal economic enablers” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Banning North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood, Saturday’s new Security Council sanctions resolution could cut a third off its $3 billion of annual export revenue.
The U.S.-drafted resolution also bans countries from increasing the number of North Korean laborers working abroad, new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures.
Kono, Tillerson and Kang met on the fringes of a series of foreign ministerial meetings of the 10-member ASEAN and other regional powers in the Philippine capital.
Also Monday, the 10 ASEAN foreign ministers plus Japan, China and South Korea held a meeting in which they agreed to bolster financial cooperation to promote economic stability in the region.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Asian financial crisis which sent shock waves through the region and rattled currency and stock markets around the globe.
Tokyo will “closely” cooperate with the ASEAN countries, China and South Korea “in order to increase the predictability of a regional or world economic crisis,” Kono said.
Kono also pledged Japan will make efforts to combat “growing protectionism,” taking a stand against trade-restraining moves at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump has touted increasingly reductive trade policy.
The foreign ministers exchanged views on a free trade agreement including the 13 nations, Australia, New Zealand and India, as well as infrastructure and maritime order in the region, a Japanese government official said.
Late Sunday, Kono held talks with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who hosted an ASEAN Regional Forum meeting Monday. The two ministers agreed to work together to deal with North Korea.
The ARF is 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 attended by North Korea’s foreign minister almost every year.
Kono replaced Fumio Kishida as foreign minister in a Cabinet reshuffle last Thursday.