National / Politics

Japan will not waver from pressure strategy on North Korea, Foreign Minister Taro Kono says

Kyodo

Japan will continue to pressure North Korea rather than encouraging dialogue over its internationally condemned nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Monday as the Diet kicked off a 150-day ordinary session.

“Dialogue in the absence of pressure cannot move North Korea toward denuclearization,” Kono said, dismissing an idea promoted chiefly by China that talking with the North can resolve the issue.

Kono spoke days after meeting with foreign ministers and other officials from the United States, South Korea and 17 other countries in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he warned that the resumption this month of talks between North and South Korea is an attempt by Pyongyang to buy time to forge on with its weapons programs.

“(Japan) will never hold dialogue that amounts to tolerating North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons in order to gain a brief easing of tensions,” Kono said before the Diet.

In what was his first Diet address since taking up his portfolio in August, Kono repeated many of the talking points used by his predecessor Fumio Kishida.

Tokyo “absolutely cannot tolerate” North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Kono said, saying it was “essential” to continue to hiking pressure on Pyongyang.

Japan and South Korea must work together to deal with the threat from the North, he said, stressing the importance of “building future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations” two decades after a joint declaration on a friendly and cooperative partnership.

Tokyo also shares a duty to cooperate on the North Korea issue with Beijing, and will use this year’s 40th anniversary of the signing of a peace and friendship treaty with China as an opportunity to fortify trust and strengthen economic ties, Kono said.

But he also sounded a note of caution about China’s activities in the East China Sea, warning that Japan “cannot accept any attempt to change the status quo” in the waters.

The two countries are at odds over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing and Taiwan lay claim to as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively. This month, a Chinese frigate and nuclear attack submarine entered the contiguous zone just outside Japanese waters near the uninhabited islets.

Kono also addressed the decadeslong row over the sovereignty of a chain of Russia-held, Japan-claimed islets off Hokkaido. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has put the issue on the agenda with Russia in recent years, but progress has been slow.

The foreign minister said the government will communicate to Russia its willingness to keep discussing the issue, and work toward achieving joint economic activities on the islands.

Kono has paid special attention to the Middle East since becoming foreign minister, visiting the region multiple times.

He said Tokyo should play a greater role in promoting peace and stability in the region by increasing its involvement not just economically, but politically as well.