SINGAPORE – Foreign Minister Taro Kono urged Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday to ensure the U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea are implemented to halt its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Kono said he stressed the importance of preventing the North from evading the punitive measures by transferring petroleum products between vessels at sea. The Singaporean minister shared his view, he said.
Kono told reporters that he offered Japanese assistance in preventing “Southeast Asian nations from becoming a loophole” in the sanctions.
Seeking Singapore’s understanding and cooperation, Kono said the North would continue to pursue nuclear missiles despite its conciliatory moves at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
He also said he was looking forward to working closely with Singapore, since the island-state chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year.
The “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy being pursued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, namely through improving maritime security functions and building infrastructure to support the maintenance of rules-based order at sea, was also discussed.
Under this strategy, Japan wants to ensure order in a vast area stretching from East Asia to Africa in an apparent bid to counter China’s rising clout in the region.
He also pitched Japanese technology for a high-speed rail project aimed at linking Singapore to Malaysia that is expected to start sometime around 2026. A qualified bidder is to be selected by the end of this year.
Kono, who went to Singapore following a visit to Brunei on Sunday, also met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In Brunei, Kono warned against falling for North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” during its rapprochement with South Korea, stressing that Pyongyang remains committed to developing nuclear weapons and missiles.
“Without being swayed by smile diplomacy, Japan will firmly coordinate with (the United States and South Korea) toward the ultimate goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” Kono told reporters in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, a day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister and close aide.
North Korea conducted a military parade “on the eve of the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as if to show off its missiles. Its intention regarding nuclear and missiles development has not changed,” Kono said.
In her meeting with Moon, Kim Yo Jong, part of North Korea’s high-level delegation to the opening ceremony, delivered a letter from her brother and invited the president to visit the North.
Tokyo has been concerned that Seoul’s conciliatory stance toward Pyongyang could endanger trilateral cooperation with the U.S. to pressure North Korea to compel it to give up its nuclear weapons and missile ambitions.
Also in Brunei on Sunday, Kono met with Erywan Yusof, the second minister of foreign affairs and trade.
Kono’s visit to Brunei was the first by a Japanese foreign minister in five years.
Brunei, a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is ASEAN’s coordinating country for Japan.